People tell me all the time, “Oh, Vicki, my company doesn’t invest in professional development, so I don’t feel that they value me and are certainly not preparing me for a leadership role.” That information certainly tells you about the company. And it gives me some insight into the person’s current frame of mind.
If you want to be a great leader it’s in your hands and you can start now, don’t wait for anyone’s permission; as an emerging leader, it’s up to you to take responsibility for your leadership journey. In this article, I share some ideas about how emerging leaders can set themselves up for success.
What is an emerging leader?
An emerging leader is anyone wanting to accelerate their career, where they lead others-either directly or indirectly-and are responsible for maintaining and/or building effective teams. Emerging leaders may be climbing the corporate ladder or even transitioning from a solopreneur to an entrepreneur and suddenly have the responsibility of motivating, developing, and influencing others.
Whatever your leadership aspirations, I believe it’s essential to set yourself up for success by building a strong foundation of mindset and skill development. After all, you’re in charge. As early twentieth-century businesswoman, Madam CJ Walker, said, “I got my start by giving myself a start.”
Foundational philosophies for emerging leaders to embrace
1. Reflect on yourself
Excellent leaders spend time exploring who they want to be, how they’ll become that person, and what they want to accomplish. They seek to understand their strengths and the areas that they need to further develop. In addition, they have the self-motivation, and determination to grow and learn.
2. Identify what kind of leader you’d like to be
Think about experiences you’ve had with leaders, whether they were parents, teachers, or bosses at work. The good ones inspire us, and the bad ones remind us of what we don’t want to become.
Figure out what kind of boss you’d like to be based on what resonates with you. What motivates and demotivates you? It’s especially important to figure out the amount of guidance you like. Do you appreciate being told what to do? Or do you prefer to figure things out, create, and lead your own path? This matters because different companies run on different leadership philosophies, as you’ll see from the story below.
Storytime: The district manager who was used to following a playbook
When I was SVP of Sales and Operations at Marks and Spencer, I inherited a district manager. She was lovely and I really liked her, but she didn’t know how to think without the playbook. This young woman had been a district manager at another retailer where she was successful. But she struggled with me at Marks and Spencer; why?
Simple. Different styles. Back in those days, her previous company was very successful because they were committed to specific operating procedures with no room for deviation. Well, that’s not the same approach we took at Marks and Spencer, and I soon learned my district manager excelled in a more structured and direct environment. In the end, we learned to work together and she was taught how to use her experiences, instincts, skills, and knowledge to guide her team.
The lesson here is simple but important: You’re far more likely to be successful if your leadership style and preferences are aligned with those of the company you work for.
3. Fuel yourself well
Leadership is a huge responsibility; you’re leading, inspiring, and influencing people, with the goal of bringing out the best in them and it can be exhausting if you don’t fuel yourself first and well. How are you taking care of yourself? What are you consuming, physically and mentally? Do they nourish you or bring you down?
For example, I fuelled my leadership journey in part by reading self-help and leadership books-even while on beach vacations! The lessons I got from Susan Jeffer’s timeless book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, have nourished me for decades and a book I share often with clients.
Find leaders who resonate with you and take in their ideas through books, interviews, and podcasts. Whether it’s Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, Stephen Covey, or others, listen to people who inspire you to take action, to be the leader you know you can be. And be sure to follow the Women in Leadership Talk podcast, where I interview inspirational people from around the globe about their personal leadership and growth experiences.
4. Walk the talk with emotional intelligence (EQ)
Emotional intelligence often gets distilled into empathy, but it also encompasses self-regulation, stress tolerance, self-reliance, and how you connect and interact with all types of people.
Unfortunately, I hear a lot of leaders talking about emotional intelligence, but I don’t see enough people actually walking that talk. Practicing emotional intelligence will make you a stronger and more approachable leader. Many of us work with people from a variety of backgrounds because we’re part of the global economy. What works in North America doesn’t work in China and what works in China doesn’t work in Russia, so it’s our responsibility to expand ourselves and understand what happens outside of our own backyard. EQ helps us do that.
(For more information on how to evaluate and improve your EQ, consider the EQ 2.0 assessment and debrief, available through WIL Empowered.)
5. Get out of your comfort zone
Emerging leaders are often terrified of not knowing everything. But how could you know everything-even as a seasoned leader? Jumping into the unknown is how we learn and grow, so make sure part of your leadership approach is getting you out of your comfort zone. (To read about how I got out of my comfort zone by applying to be the president at Bombay Furniture Company, check out my article, How to overcome feeling like a fraud.)
6. Embrace succession planning
Leaders of all levels know they will be replaced. Good leaders embrace this certainty while bad leaders avoid succession planning because they’re afraid of it. But if you’re a leader and someone wants your job, that’s the biggest compliment you can get! Confident leaders-at any level of the organization-want other people to grow into their roles. Think of your team’s top talent (yourself included) and ask, “If Stacey leaves, who are two people who could take her place? If I leave, who will replace me?” This is an important skill to build in finding and developing your replacement as it gives you an advantage toward that next opportunity.
Continually search for my replacement
The first organization I worked for was Woolworth’s and my succession mindset is why I was so successful there. When I started, I was sent to a store to clean it up and hire my replacement. Then I got promoted to a higher-volume store, then district manager. My job was figuring out if I had strength in the district; if I didn’t, I hired the talent and groomed that person to be my replacement. I repeated the process as regional manager, which led to me being sent to Canada to build a training program to increase our talent pipeline and build out the company’s succession plan. All this was possible because I always had that philosophy of, “Who could be my replacement?”
Top skills for emerging leaders to cultivate
I’ve worked alongside many leaders and have coached many more. Based on these experiences, I always encourage emerging leaders to develop their skills across the four areas below.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Communication is the most important skill you need to learn as an emerging leader, whether you’re in a corporate environment or as a business owner. Communication isn’t just about talking and telling people what to do. It’s also about listening, asking questions, acknowledging other people, and validating what you’ve heard. What gets people into the most trouble at work and home is not being able to communicate effectively with stakeholders, whether it’s a boss, employee, or loved one.
2. Build resiliency
A guaranteed route to being overlooked is sitting there and waiting for somebody to pick you up, especially as a woman. Instead, go for what you want, learn how to promote yourself effectively, ask for feedback, and build your confidence by getting out of your comfort zone. For other ways to build your confidence, check out the podcast, WIL Talk #39 Vicki Bradley on Confidence, where I talk about how we might lack confidence and how we can build it by cultivating a possibility mindset and practicing confident behaviors.
When you’re resilient and things go wrong, you’re less likely to get discouraged, take things personally, or be thrown off your path. Two great ways to become more resilient are taking on new challenges and attending to your physical, mental, and emotional needs with an enjoyable self-care routine.
3. Keep on learning
Whether it’s taking a course, asking tough questions, or talking to a mentor, amazing leaders never stop learning. For example, not getting the promotion you wanted is an amazing learning opportunity. It allows you to ask your leader(s), “What can I do? What skills do I need to further develop for this kind of role? What would put me in a better position to take on that next role?”
And remember, a great way to keep on learning is to learn within a supportive environment, such as WIL Empowered, where you can grow the leadership skills you’re not taught at university and accelerate your leadership potential.
4. Network like you love it
Emerging leaders must network. At work and in life, it’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know, which is why I recommend constantly and consciously growing your network. Networking is an opportunity to make meaningful connections with others, including people you wouldn’t necessarily think you have access to. It’s also a skill-building exercise. Networking involves talking to new people, asking the right questions, and putting people at ease, which means you get to practice those essential communication skills too.
If you’re unsure about how to grow your network, sign up for our on-demand Networking: Love it or Hate it webinar and learn how to unleash the power of meaningful connections and take your networking skills to new heights.
Final thoughts for emerging leaders
If you’re an emerging leader, you owe it to yourself to invest in building your skills so you can be the best leader possible. In this article, you’ve learned several ways to approach becoming an effective leader and you could start with one or all these ideas today. Plus, it’s never too early in your career to get a coach one-on-one or through the WIL Empowered group coaching programs and figure out how you want to navigate your leadership journey. If expanding your leadership skills this year sounds good, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a meet-and-greet discovery call.
Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto, Canada, and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.
I work with individuals pursuing success in leadership roles, becoming an entrepreneur, and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.
WIL Empowered is a group coaching program where we focus on all four aspects of leadership development through coaching, networking, peer-to-peer mentoring, and developing power skills. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation, and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.
UPCOMING EVENT: Thursday, October 19, 2023. Join me at the 2023 Women in IT Summit and Awards and catch my Q&A session about leadership with Twiggy Lemercier, COO at Allstate Insurance Canada.