Do You Have What it Takes? Moving from Contributor to Leader

blog022114Developing skills as a leader is never something that’s done in a straight line. It’s an unclear path, with many ups and downs as leadership skills are gained, mistakes are made, and new experiences lead to new ideas. Those experiences – and that journey – are what build great leadership skills. If you are someone who has been a successful individual contributor, it’s only natural to wonder if you can take your skills to the next level and lead others. Here, we’ll help you identify some key qualities and competences that are necessary to become a successful leader.

So, before you raise your hand to take on a leadership role, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s motivating me to be a leader? Remember that this can’t just be a bigger paycheck. In order to effectively lead, you’ve got to be driven by something you care strongly about – a cause, a company, building a strong workforce… these are all good motivators.
  2. What is the purpose of my leadership? What do you see as the result of your ability to lead others? Again, it can’t just be about money. Growing a company, creating a team with a legacy, turning younger workers into leaders themselves… think about what you’ll want to look back on and feel a sense of having contributed.
  3. In what ways does the purpose of that leadership relate to the rest of my life? Being a leader isn’t just about achievement in the workplace. Great leaders incorporate those skills into who they are, becoming leaders in the community as well as in business. Understand that leadership skills can propel you forward, but only if you embrace them as a part of who you are.
  4. What behaviors do I need, or skills do I need to gain in order to be an effective leader? This takes a bit of self-reflection. What skills do you already possess that are propelling you toward a leadership role? Where are your weaknesses? Understanding yourself is the first step to becoming a great leader.

By responding to these questions honestly, you can better understand where you tend to look for your satisfaction and acknowledgement of your status as a leader. Does power, prestige, and wealth motivate you to lead or is it a deeper desire to serve something greater?

Making the transition from an individual contributor to a role that requires you to demonstrate new leadership skills is a difficult one. Some employers do a good job of assimilating new leaders into new roles by providing an assessment of leadership skills and behaviors that are important for your new role. They may also provide internal or external coaching resources to supplement the development from the assessment. If your organization does not have these capabilities, meet with your boss, HR department or mentor to discuss what new skills you need to develop and which ones you need to let go of. There are some great books you can read that can help in your transition. Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Will Not Get You There and Scott Eblin’s The Next Level Leader come to mind.

There are two key qualities that will have a profound impact on you as a leader. These two qualities, skills or competencies are having a high degree of Authenticity and Emotional Intelligence.

Authenticity is your ability to relate to others in an authentic, courageous and in a high integrity manner. It is the extent to which your leadership is an expression of your true genuine self and not masked by imitation, organizational politics, looking good and winning approval. Authenticity and integrity are the qualities most desired in a leader. Others will flock to you and follow you. People will align with you because you practice what you preach. Your power as a leader is not primarily based on your position but it is based on power being given to you by others because you act with integrity. Leaders who demonstrate authenticity live the values that are most important to them. This enables them to effectively communicate their core values which will help to engender trust and respect because they put their high principles into practice every day. Aspiring leaders who have a high degree of Authenticity have the character and courage to do what is right.

How well do you know your Authentic self? If you don’t know create a basic self-awareness assessment, come up with several questions that include:

  • How self-confident are you?
  • How effective are you in regulating your moods to minimize the impact in others?
  • How skillful are you in building lasting relationships?
  • How effective are you leading teams?
  • How persuasive are you influencing others?

Come up with some additional questions like these and assess yourself on a scale of 1-10. Ask others who know you well to rate you using the same scale. Include open- ended questions that include what are your strengths and greatest areas of development. After reviewing the feedback what does the information tell you? Share it with your boss, HR and create a development plan.

In addition, get explicit about the values that are important to you, the principles you will use in leading and the ethical boundaries that you will adhere to even under stress and great pressure. List the values that are important in your life and your leadership? Rank them in order of importance. Define them and then articulate the leadership principles that will demonstrate these values in action.

The second quality is Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others as well as your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. It affects how you manage your behavior and actions and the behavior and actions of others. Emotional intelligence taps into the fundamental element of human behavior that is distinct from your intellect (IQ). There is no known connection between IQ and EQ; you simply cannot predict your EQ based on how smart you are.

I believe it is the single most important quality in a leader. It is a skill that can be learned and developed. The impact of EQ on your professional success is huge. Your EQ is the foundation for a host of critical skills that impacts most of everything you say and do each day. Critical skills include empathy, organizational awareness, self- confidence, adaptability, influencing, developing others, dealing with conflict and collaboration.

What is your EQ? There exist many Emotional Intelligence assessments that you can take to find out and books that you can read and study. Daniel Goleman’sPrimal Leadership realizing the power of Emotional intelligence and Travis Bradberry’s Emotional intelligence 2.0 are excellent resources. Bradberry’s book allows you to take a self-assessment, which compares your scores to their database of other leaders who have taken the assessment. The report is simple to read and has some terrific suggestions for actions steps aspiring leaders can take to develop these skills.

If you are aspiring to become a leader and to take on more responsibilities, start with answering the questions “what motivates me to be a leader?” and “what is the purpose of my leadership?” Get help in transitioning into your new role by using the resources your organization has at your disposal or use some of the resources mentioned above on assessing your own skills and qualities of Authenticity and Emotional Intelligence. By doing so, it will help ensure your long-term success as a leader.

Chris Craddock

As the leader of Projections' production team, Chris loves to inspire others to perform at the highest levels! From the most challenging leadership opportunities to brainstorming the latest topics leaders want to learn about, Chris provides clear direction and vision.