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How to Show You’re a High-Potential Leader (Before You’ve Led a Team)

7 Ways to Show You’re High-Potential and Ready to Be a Leader

I hear frustrations like this all the time from high-potential contributors who feel they’re ready to lead, but just aren’t getting the chance.

Yeah, I get that I’m here in this great leadership development program… and the company is investing in me and all that. But my boss keeps saying:

“You’re NOT READY to be promoted, you’ve NEVER LED A TEAM. I can’t recommend you for that particular promotion now, give it time.”

But the truth is, my job is eighteen times more complex than any front-line supervisor at this company. I’m neck-deep in a complex organizational structure doing really strategic work and making an impact.

How do I get noticed?”

I get it. I’ve been there.

A couple of decades ago I looked at my boss, Mary Ann, and said almost EXACTLY those words. I had a master’s degree and most of a Ph.D., I was gung-ho working really hard, thinking strategically, and contributing to vital company priorities. And, I just wasn’t getting promoted.

I’ll never forget what Mary Ann said next.

Karin, “What’s for you won’t miss you. We’ve got a lot of old-fashioned ways of thinking and being around here… but you’re bigger than all that. Stay the course. Show up as the leader you think the guys three levels up should be.”

And so I did. And as it turns out, Mary Ann was right. It didn’t miss me.

Seven Ways to Get Noticed As a High-Potential Leader Before You’ve Led a Team

And, I don’t want “it” to miss you either. So, let’s talk about some ways to get noticed as a high-potential contributor ready to take on a leadership role.

Of course, if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know you should start with the six competencies you can’t lead without. If you’re new here, check that out first before you continue reading.

From there, let’s plan your advanced strategy.

1. Share your strengths.

It’s true the best salespeople don’t always make the best sales managers.  But sometimes they do. And, the best chefs aren’t necessarily the best choice to run your restaurant. But, sometimes they are.

I’d much rather work for a manager who has some technical expertise.

When you can combine being the best at what you do with a genuine interest in helping other people to grow, you will naturally emerge as a leader on the team.

Promoting someone over their co-workers can be a challenge. This is why hiring managers so often look outside the team. But it’s a much easier decision when you’re already seen as the go-to leader on the team.

Share your best practices. Be generous with your time in helping others to leverage their own strengths and help them to grow.

2. Be coachable.

When you’re really good at what you do, and you know it, sometimes it’s hard to stay coachable. And yet, being coachable is one of the most important qualities you can have as a leader.

One great way to do this is to go on a 360-degree listening tour and invite others to support you in your continued development as a high-potential leader.

And if you haven’t had a career development discussion with your manager, I share an easy tool to get that going in my latest LinkedIn newsletter.

3. Earn trust.

If you ask a hiring manager what qualities they look for in a leader, “integrity” is always at the top of the list—they’re looking for someone whom they can trust to do what they say and to follow through.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be in a formal leadership role to earn a reputation of being someone you can trust. Do what you say. Follow-through. Be a trusted advisor. Keep confidences. Stay consistent and reliable.

4. Develop your peripheral vision.

Another way to get noticed as high-potential and ready now for leadership is to expand your range of thinking about the organization beyond your immediate role and current team. Learn what’s important to your peers in other departments (and how you can be helpful). Be known as the person who reaches across silos to foster collaboration.

5. Contribute I.D.E.A.s to improve the business.

One of the biggest gaps on many leadership teams is critical thinking and problem-solving. And you certainly don’t need to be in a formal leadership role to bring forward ideas to improve the business. If you need some help on practical ways to share your ideas to help build your reputation as a high-potential leader, start here.

6. Get good at tough conversations.

Another challenge for many managers is that they shy away from tough accountability conversations, or they handle them poorly. You will certainly stand out if you can master the art of talking about the tough stuff well. For tips on having ttough conversations with your manager start here.

7. Take a leadership role in meetings.

One important question to ask yourself on your quest to show up as a high-potential leader is, “is every meeting I attend better because I was there?” Are you speaking up in meetings and adding value? Are you doing what you can to keep the meeting on track, even if you’re not in charge? Here are some tips to do that well, particularly in remote meetings, where many teams need the most help.

In short, if you want to be seen as high-potential, ready now for a promotion, start by being the leader you want your boss to be.

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