One of the basic tenants of leadership development is that you are responsible for your own growth and improvement. In other words, it's up to you to "scale" your leadership brand and contribution, becoming ever more valuable to your organization as your career moves forward. Here are seven ways that you can increase your influence and impact as a leader:
- Learn the Business. Many of us work in a specific department or even a small group within a department, which leaves us isolated from the rest of the organization. One easy way to scale yourself is to learn as much as you can about your own company — how it makes money, how it reports metrics and financial results, the products and services it offers, what each department does, who's in various leadership positions, etc. The more you know about your own company, the more valuable you are to senior leadership.
- Learn to Delegate. If you keep doing all the work on your team, you'll never branch out and experience different leadership challenges. Get good at delegating — it will free you up to take on new and different tasks. It also has the benefit of developing your direct reports, and raises engagement on your team (no one likes to be micro-managed). Push the right work down to the right people, and let go. If you do, you'll have an opportunity to expand your skills in other ways.
- Step Up Your Networking. You know you're supposed to be nurturing and adding to your network as your career unfolds. But how many of us are organized and deliberate about networking? Make this the year you touch base multiple times with each person in your network, and set a goal of adding new contacts. One tip is to send each of your contacts something of value throughout the year — a link to an online resource, or an article you think they might find interesting. Be a giver, not just a taker when it comes to interacting with your network.
- Contribute More Strategic Thinking. Are you paying attention to the outside world? Are you connecting what's happening globally to your company and your role? One of the attributes that sets you apart from your peers is your ability to synthesize data from the world at large and apply that information to your current challenges. Are you reading or talking to others about your industry, the competition, consumer trends, technology advances, the impact of millennials, etc? Spend more time looking outside your company for strategies, opportunities and ideas, and start to contribute to the strategic discussions that are happening all around you.
- Solicit Feedback on Your Brand. You need feedback; it's hard to expand your brand without it. The fastest way to scale yourself as a leader is to ask the people around you what you're doing well, and where you could be even more effective. Don't be shy — ask for feedback at least twice a year from a variety of sources. Be sincere, listen to the input, and put the best ideas into action.
- Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. In general, if you're going to scale your contribution, you need to stretch yourself beyond what you already know and do well. Proactively look for opportunities to volunteer for task forces or committees across the company. Join a non-profit in a leadership position, or teach a course in your organization's corporate university. Take a course in public speaking, or contract with a coach to help you develop a new skill. Make a list of what you do well, and what you need to improve, and spend time really pursuing the latter category.
- Prepare a Leadership Development Plan. You're much more likely to follow through with these ideas if you write a formal leadership development plan (and then share it with your boss or a trusted peer). I advise my coaching clients to document what they're going to DO differently, and how they're going to THINK differently about their development opportunities. There's something about writing and sharing your plans that makes them real. Make sure you take this final step to truly cement your development goals.
You can do this — you're capable of contributing more to the organization, and to having people see you in an expanded, more positive way. But you have to be intentional, and you have to put in the work. Good luck!