To step up to leadership, you have to learn to think like a leader. The way you think is a product of your past experience. The only way to change how you think, therefore, is to do different things.
Doing things—rather than simply thinking about them—will increase your outsight on what leadership is all about. Outsight comes from a “tripod” of sources:
- new ways of doing your work (your job)
- new relationships (your network), and
- new ways of connecting to and engaging people (yourself).
Sustainable change in your leadership capacity requires shifts on all three legs of the tripod,
Redefine Your Job
Success creates competency traps. We fall into a competency trap when these three things occur:
- You enjoy what you do well, so you do more of it and get yet better at it.
- When you allocate more time to what you do best, you devote less time to learning other things that are also important.
- Over time, it gets more costly to invest in learning to do new things.
To act like a leader, you must shift your focus away from your competent areas that add little to no value, and instead devote time to:
- Develop your situation sensors.
- Get involved in projects outside your area.
- Participate in extracurricular activities.
- Communicate your personal “why.”
- Create slack in your schedule
Network Across and Out
As you embark on the transition to leadership, networking outside your organization, team, and close connections becomes a vital lifeline to who and what you might become. The only way to realize that networking is one of the most important requirements of a leadership role is to act. If you leave things to chance and natural chemistry, then your network will be narcissistic and lazy.
Network advantage is a function of your BCDs: the breadth of your contacts, the connectivity of your networks, and your network’s dynamism. Enhance or rebuild your strategic network from the periphery of your current network outward as a first step toward increasing your outsight on yourself.
Be More Playful with Your Self
Many of the typical challenges of stepping up to leadership make people feel like fakes: taking charge in a new role, selling their ideas, managing their higher-ups, working in an alien culture, and learning from negative feedback. Chameleons are comfortable shifting shapes and styles to fit each new situation; true-to-selfers, on the other hand, tend to feel inauthentic when asked to stretch outside their comfort zone.
Authenticity traps really get you into trouble when you are stepping up to leadership, because what feels like the authentic you is the old self that you are trying to shed. One way to escape the authenticity trap is to think about experimenting with new behaviors as playing around with your sense of who you are instead of working on it. The new behaviors might feel unnatural in the beginning, but they help you figure out who you might want to be, without your actually committing to become it—playing gives you out-sight on yourself.
Here are three ways you can play around with your sense of who you are:
- Steal like an artist: Observe a broad range of role models to create your own collage of things you want to learn from these models, and keep refining your style until it is effective and authentic.
- Aim to learn: Set learning goals, not just performance goals.
- Don’t stick to your story: Try different versions, narrate different defining moments, and keep editing, much as you would your curriculum vitae
Manage the Stepping-Up Process
Stepping up to play a bigger leadership role is not an event; it’s a process that takes time before it pays off. It is a transition built from small changes. Most methods for changing ask you to begin with the end in mind-the desired outcome. But in reality, knowing what kind of leader you want to become comes last, not first, in the stepping-up process.
The transition process is rarely linear; difficulties and complications will inevitably arise and often follow a predictable sequence of five stages:
- Simple addition
- Course correction
Finally realize that making major, external moves like changing jobs and careers does not necessarily take you to a better place. More important is to grow by questioning where you are today, actively entertaining alternatives, and eventually committing to making changes. The changes can be external, like job moves, or more internal, like changing the way you think about what you do and why. Breaking free from your “ought self”—what important people in your life think you ought to be—is at the heart of the transition process.