So you want to become a leader? How? If you are like me, you sit back and try to think what actions you need to take. It becomes like some kind of secret mission – where you must uncover the hidden secrets about how to do it – without anyone knowing. Since my job was as an engineer, I felt I had to “engineer my way” through some sort of discovery or unique design process in order to become a leader. Have you followed a similar path?
Why do we think this way? Perhaps we think everyone will be jealous, laugh at us, or think we are not good enough. It is as if we have to learn something new or work at something – we are going to be judged. We do need to learn something new – that is just part of growing. Accept it and embrace it.
Feeling like you have to know it all is called a fixed mindset. It was discussed in detail in the book Mindset. (An awesome read I HIGHLY recommend!)
Start thinking about growth. Think of the next step as a challenge where you are looking to learn more. You can grow.
So to start the growth, ask for help from the most obvious place, your boss.
Three Actions to Take to Become a Leader
1. Let Your Boss Know You Want to Become a Leader
Make it known that you want to become a leader. This is simple – but often overlooked. Just go state to your boss that you would be interested in moving into a leadership position. You will learn a lot from the conversation. One thing for sure you will learn is if your boss will support you or not.
Your boss might look on your desire to grow as a positive sign. But, they also might feel a little threatened or even be scared of losing you. Whether you tell them now or later, these issues will come up – so let them come up now. The response you get will reveal their own leadership and mindset. Good leaders want their people to grow. Poor leaders do not.
So start by stating your desire to become a leader and see where it goes. It can open up a flood of resources and start things in motion.
2. Ask Your Boss to Help You Become a Leader
People like being asked for advice.
Wait – Stop! This is a key leadership lesson right here!
Leadership is about people and getting things done with people. Soft skills are key. So, try to understand people. It took me a long time to learn that people want to help. They like being asked for advice. To ask someone ahead of you how to get to where they are or how you can grow, means you are asking for their wisdom.
When you ask for their wisdom, you are giving them a compliment, telling them you admire what they have done. (When someone asks you for advice, how do you feel?)
3. Ask What You Need to Learn to Be a Good Leader
I was working on a team and wanted to become a leader so I went to my boss and asked for help. He was about 3 levels above me (the first one I trusted) and I just stopped in and shared my desire to make some changes. At the time I did not even know my request meant leadership – I just wanted my work to be more meaningful to me and to the company.
In the conversation, he was very open and offered some simple advice. One of those things was to become more involved in IEEE, a professional group that was supported by many company officers. He suggested I get 100% involved, take on roles, and even step up and lead when it was needed. (In case you do not know this, all professional organizations have a leadership void – a lot of takers and very few people taking action and making it happen.)
It was a simple thing, but the result was me connecting with people at the right level. I was suddenly working on committees with people levels above me in the company.
What Happens Next?
As you state it – doors will start to open
You might have heard of the concept of the Law of Attraction which states that once you put things in your mind, the universe will conspire to make them happen. This is one of these times that the principle works, but explaining why is crazy. (I think the universe thing is a bunch of hogwash.)
A better way to think about this is through the words of Earl Nightingale “We become what we think about.” We change – not the universe.
Once you start talking, more talk will happen. You will be thinking. Others will bring it up. The leaders you asked to help you will be thinking. You have put things into motion.
I saw this in play when I worked for BellSouth. I did not really do that much – but suddenly I was getting called about opportunities in the company. I did not realize it then – but my vice president had put things in motion. It was now a matter of when. Eventually, I found my way into a job with a promotion.
State your intentions and see what happens. No need for fear.
But what if your boss torpedoes you?
Many have asked me – “If I tell my boss, what happens if they ruin it for me?” They will find out anyway. You might as well get it out of the way.
Or as Stonewall Jackson put it:
Never take counsel of your fears.
Action Overcomes Fear
Stonewall’s point was focused on taking action. We tend to overthink these things instead of taking the simplest action in front of us. We also never seem to want to give people a chance to be decent human beings. So step up, take a chance, and tell your boss you want to become a leader.
These leadership lessons come from real life (mine) and coaching engineers and technology professionals as part of our Engineering Management graduate program.