11 Tips on Grooming Yourself for Leadership

January, especially after a presidential transition, is all about rebirth, new leadership, and setting a course for the coming year. For some in government, January can mark the beginning of, or next step in, a plan to reach a leadership position. Here, I’m sharing some tips on grooming yourself for the leadership role you desire to get your 2017 off to a great start.

  1. Be confident in your opinions: If you have an opinion about how you think a project should progress, how tasks should be divided, or a potential solution to an issue, don’t be afraid to speak up. But be prepared to back up your opinion with facts, past experiences, or anything else that can support your argument. And if, in the end, your opinion isn’t the most popular in the room or isn’t the direction your boss chooses, be gracious. Accept the direction instead of grumbling to your co-workers about why your idea was better, and prove that you can be adaptable to the direction you are given and that you’re ultimately a team player.
  2. Ask questions: Don’t be positive that you know everything, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This doesn’t mean just asking fact-based questions of your boss or teammates. Also consider asking them for their opinions on your approach to a problem or about contacts they have who might be able to help you find information you need.
  3. Keep learning: Attend brown bag lunches, sign up for training both in and out of the office, and pick the brains of those around you. If you want to position yourself for a leadership role, you must continue learning the ins and outs of your organization, the areas it covers, and the current events or new findings that may impact your work.
  4. Find a mentor: This might be your current boss, someone who oversees another team, or someone for whom you’ve worked in the past. Whomever you choose, make sure you are comfortable telling this person about your goals and ask him or her to help you develop a plan of action for getting there. Ask if your mentor can make introductions to others who have held the leadership position you desire, and if the connection can be made, see if you can sit down with this person to ask questions about their own career path, how they achieved the leadership role, what they enjoyed/didn’t enjoy about the position, major tasks they undertook or wish they would have, or even their own list of necessary skills for being a leader.
  5. Know what your organization offers, and the requirements for obtaining those positions: Talk with your current boss or a mentor about your career goals and work with them to determine what will be required of you to move into a leadership position. Or, comb through postings on USAJobs or agency websites that align with your desired role. Do you need a certain number of years on the job, or a certain skill or certification? Develop a strategy for obtaining whatever it is that will be required of you.
  6. Practice executive thinking: When you’re presented with a problem, think about what the person currently filling the leadership role you desire would do. This doesn’t mean that you have to choose their solution, but spend some time considering why they might act one way or another. Or, when a decision is made by a leader in your organization, try to determine why he or she acted in that manner. If you’re in a position to do so, ask your boss why a certain decision was made and what other solutions were considered.
  7. Plan, plan, plan: Based on discussions with your mentor or boss, or research you’ve conducted, write down your path to obtaining the leadership position you’d like, complete with each step, training, certification, etc. you need. Periodically review your plan to see if you’ve made progress, what the next logical step might be, or to determine if your plan needs to be amended based on your own interests or changes within your organization.
  8. Stand out: Make a positive appearance in the way you dress, speak, and act at work. Be willing to help those around you rather than knocking people down because they seem like competition. Make yourself useful in any situation by listening and learning as much as you can, then be ready to speak up when a need arises that you can fill.
  9. Accept responsibility: Everyone is going to make mistakes, but it’s important that you’re willing to accept and admit fault. Don’t try to pass the blame off on teammates or your boss or some other external factor. Admit your mistake, determine how to overcome it, work to amend the situation, and move on. In the future, show that you’ve learned from your mistake by applying the correct course of action to your activities.
  10. Be trustworthy: When you’re made privy to information that might not be common knowledge, don’t immediately run to your co-workers and tell them everything you know. Instead, show that you can be discreet while also putting that information to use in your work, as needed.
  11. Be authentic: While you’re working toward your leadership role, be yourself. Sure, there might be minor changes that you make to the way you dress in the office or how outspoken you are at team meetings, but if you try to become someone you aren’t, it will often be readily apparent. And being uncomfortable in your skin won’t bode well when your organization is looking for someone who can be a leader.

If you’re in a leadership role, how did you prepare? Or, if you’re considering a leadership role, what are your preparation plans?

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Lacey Scully

Really enjoyed this, Heather! Great suggestions – I loved your tip to practice executive thinking. That’s something I’d like to try in the future!