Read any career book or blog, and there will likely be a section on the importance of developing your leadership skills in order to move ahead in your career. What’s often less clear (especially to younger workers) is how to best go about doing that.
“Rather than just saying something like, ‘My job as a receptionist is just to let people through,’ you should be using your job as a platform and take more things on,” says Herminia Ibarra, the author of “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader” and an expert on leadership development. “That’s how you move up.”
Ibarra offers this advice for employees planning their next move:
Take risks: Oftentimes, Ibarra says, employees are hesitant about mixing things up when they are in charge of a project because of a fear of inauthenticity. “When you are in an unfamiliar role, you don’t know what you want to be like,” she notes. “Taking more of a take-charge attitude and doing things like working your network and selling ideas almost seems like a violation of who you are.”
Ibarra urges fledgling leaders to put those hesitations aside. “Whatever image you have in your mind of a leader is a caricature,” she says. “You can say, ‘I don’t want to be that person, but I am going to make a commitment to explore outside my comfort zone.’”
Expand your horizons: In addition to branching out within your company, Ibarra urges workers to lean on their networks. “Say you think you should become a better speaker or a better networker,” she says as an example. “If these are things that don’t come naturally to you, what I would do is find two or three role models — people you like or respect — and pull out one or two things that they do well and see if you can try that out yourself.”
Do more than your job description: One trap that many people fall into, says Ibarra, is they feel restricted by the their jobs. “Try to see if you can expand the boundaries of your job,” she urges. “Get involved in extracurricular activities and industry associations and go to conferences that let you see the big picture. Then, ask yourself how you can apply those skills to your job and learn to be more strategic.”
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.