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How to get promoted into leadership

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Who’s ready to move up? Recently a client came to me with a challenge: she was eager to step into leadership, but the path wasn’t clear. She felt stalled where she was, and uninspired about the future. So, what’s the best way to get promoted into leadership? 

Besides being great at what you do and generally not a jerk (although sometimes they sneak through the gate), here are five shifts that I see making a difference: 

Think bigger picture

Whatever you’ve been focused on day to day, know that your leadership is focused on something different. If you want to be one of them, pay attention to their perspectives.

You might be talking about page 6 of your document (someone has to!), but they’re strategizing about using this work to break into a new industry.  Whenever possible, get your head out of the weeds and join their conversation. 

Delegate intentionally

Repeat after me: once you master it, stop doing it. This can be really difficult, especially because it feels so good to be good at the things you’re good at! Moving on from them means risking failing at new things, and who wants to live in the unknown, with the constant risk of failure? 

Leaders do. And if you want to be one, so do you. If you don’t have a team, get creative and talk to your manager about refreshing how work is spread around. Find a way to spend more time doing stuff you don’t know how to do yet. 

Bring your opinion 

My career started in a pretty intimidating environment: I was the seventh employee at a startup boutique consulting firm, working daily with our founder, a well established industry icon.

He was so knowledgeable, charismatic and (to me at the time) terrifying that I did nothing but execute on his instructions for the first full year. In those early days, I didn’t know enough to have a credible view on a client situation.

Somewhere along the line, I had seen enough to develop an opinion. And eventually, I got the nerve to start sharing it. Real leadership takes a lot of judgment and forming opinions. The sooner you start strengthening those muscles, the better. 

Put up your hand 

This one is simple but people (especially women) often find it hard: Look around, find the decision makers, make yourself known to them, and tell them you’re interested in a leadership position. 

Honestly, if you know what you want (even generally), you’re miles ahead of tons of people who are still figuring it out (yay!). You don’t have to wait until year end to have this conversation. You can book a meeting called “career planning” with your manager and ask questions like: 

  • can you see me in a leadership role here in the next 1-3-5 (whatever) years?
  • what skills and experiences do I need to gather before being considered for roles X or Y? 
  • can you help me gather those skills and experiences? 
  • do you have any advice for me to help me get there?  

Once you’ve spoken with your manager, let them know you’d like to speak with others, and then make those conversations happen. It’s pretty rare that people fall into leadership. This is you getting intentional and developing your grit on the way there. 

Network inside and outside your company

You didn’t want to hear this one, right? Why does the word “networking” make people feel dirty? Here’s the thing: you may or may not be on deck for leadership at your current company. If your goal is to move up, cast your eyes outside, too. Keeping in touch with your network gives you insight about the industry and job market, and if you choose to network with people you like (hint: do that), it’ll be fun!

To recap: if stepping into leadership is your calling, then here are five shifts to make starting today: think bigger picture by paying attention to the leadership conversation where you work, delegate intentionally and spend your time mastering new things, bring your opinion to develop (and practice communicating) your judgment, put your hand up and make your ambition known, and, network inside and outside your company with people you like having coffee, lunch and drinks with.

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