Dear Dan: How Can I Prepare for a Larger Leadership Role

Dear Dan,

I always enjoy your posts. Very insightful content without all the usual self-help fluff.

I transitioned to a new career track in the last year where I am now an individual contributor rather than a manager.

There is huge potential for growth and upward trajectory on this new path, but I was wondering if you could post/or pass on advice for people in my situation.

I was thinking specifically as it relates to managing upward, leading when you don’t manage, and preparing yourself for a larger leadership role later in your career.

Thanks again for all your work!

Have a great weekend,

Moving Up

Dear Up,

Thanks for your encouraging words and for some great questions.

Your questions are insightful and forward looking. This leads me to believe you have a lot to offer.

I notice three questions in your email. I’ll take them in order. I’m spending more time on the last question, “… preparing yourself for a larger leadership role …”

4 ways to manage up:

#1. Be likeable.

We like people who like us.

#2. Make life easy for those over you.

Adapt to your manager’s preferences.

Some managers like daily contact. Others show up once a week. In addition, if your manager hates rocking the boat, don’t go over her head.

Actively invite a hands-on manager to participate. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Seek their input. Ask for suggestions.

#3. Know your manager’s career goals. Help them get where they want to go.

#4. Finish stuff. 

Be the go-to person.

3 ways to lead when you don’t manage:

Do things leaders do, even if you don’t’ have the title.

  1. Notice how your behaviors and attitude impact others. Adopt practices that reflect your intention to have positive impact on environments, relationships, and individuals.
  2. Earn the reputation of being forward-looking. Most are governed by the past. Leaders turn toward the future.
  3. Engage in positive practices every day. Put them on your calendar. Avoid getting sucked into negativity.
    • Notice people’s effort and results. “Wow! You worked hard on that.”
    • Say thank you. “I’m thankful for (insert their contribution/character/behavior).

5 ways to prepare for larger leadership roles:

#1. Adopt end-of-day habits.

Never just walk out the door and go home.

Daniel Kahneman and others developed the Peak-End rule. We judge experiences by the peak and the end.

The end of the day is a moment for memorable impact and positive impression.

  1. Ask team members what they accomplished. (Not as a critic, but so you can celebrate.)
  2. Plan tomorrow morning.
  3. Record learnings. Ask others what they learned?
  4. Circle the office saying thank you.
  5. Ask what people are planning for the evening or weekend.

#2. Practice humility.

  1. See yourself as connected to colleagues, leaders, teams, and the organization as a whole. You cannot lead in isolation and disconnection. Successful leaders build and strengthen connections.
  2. Know, respect, and develop your strengths as they contribute to the greater good. Any strength that doesn’t add value to your organization is irrelevant. It’s humble to understand and accept your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Show interest in others. Avoid making conversations all about you.
  4. Celebrate and honor the strengths and talents of others.

#3. Practice kind candor.

  1. Speak hard truths gently. But know that it’s unkind to allow bad to go unnoticed.
  2. Have two kinds of courage. First, courageously bring up issues and concerns. Second, have enough courage to explore options, rather than defending positions.

#4. Move conversations from ideas to action.

Talk is important in leadership only as it moves from exploration to execution.

  1. Generate a list of questions that move conversations toward action.
    • What do you/we want to do about this?
    • What’s next?
    • If we succeed, what will be different tomorrow?
    • What needs to change?
  2. Reconnect people with the big picture.
  3. Set deadlines. Could we talk about this next Tuesday? (I use the question form because you aren’t currently in a position to establish a deadline on your own.)

Leaders have a bias for action.

#5. Fuel, monitor, and manage your energy.

Low energy people earn low-level opportunities.

  1. Be serious about rest, diet, and exercise. These are the foundations to long-term success. Small things have big impact over time.
  2. Notice what you’re doing when your energy goes up. Do more of that.
  3. Fill your own cup so you can pour out for others.
  4. Habitually spend time reflecting on yourself, others, and your organization.
    • Generate an impression of the big picture.
    • Notice patterns.

What suggestions do you have for Moving Up?

How might you modify or adapt the quote in the image on this post?

*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.