It’s never too soon to begin thinking about the future of your career, especially if you intend to lead a business one day. But surprisingly few people take time to consider the skills they will need when they become the Chief Executive Officer. This is a pity, because the knowledge and experiences that carry you to the doorstep of senior opportunity are going to be vocational-, or discipline- specific. You may be a great Production Manager, Finance Director or Head of Operations. But you’ll have spent your working life looking down at the detail, because that’s what your own boss has expected from you.
But when he or she’s no longer there, looking up for the first time can be a daunting experience. A little like reaching the bridge of a ship and seeing its true situation, rather than the circumstances you imagined from the comfort of the engine room.
So, it makes sense to develop a broader perspective long before your name is flagged for promotion. Taking an interest in the business results; understanding competitor positioning; assessing the strengths and weaknesses of company culture.
You’ll also need to develop your own leadership attributes. These can’t be taught, but they can be encouraged through appropriate mentoring.
Gwen Moran is a business writer who has been awarded for influencing small businesses, but what she says about leadership attributes applies to emerging seniors in major corporates too.She highlights risk tolerance as essential. The ability to take calculated decisions and live with the outcomes. “Not taking risks is the most dangerous thing to do on the way to the top,” she says. To grow, you must take on stretch assignments and try new approaches. That may include leaving a “safe” job and taking on new roles in other companies.
Moran encourages the development of vision. The ability to see beyond daily crises and keep long-term goals in mind. To which she adds dependability, “when you say you’ll do something, you do it.”
Dependability is an essential component of trust, often a missing element in the relationship between immature leaders and staff.
To these two I would add the importance of developing your personal brand: guiding the way you will engage others with impact. These days I spend some of my time writing personal brand promises for leaders. Recording key elements of their brand on single sheet of paper helps them behave in a consistent manner and remain true to the vision they have set for themselves. A personal brand summary should acknowledge the success you have earned already, and the learnings you must take forward. Most importantly it should set the tone for your conversations as a leader.