How to position yourself as a leader

In today’s competitive environment, standing out can actually be the thing that gives you an edge. For instance, if you’re positioning yourself for a leadership role or promotion, It’s important to develop a strategy to consistently demonstrate your personal leadership traits.

To illustrate this point, let’s take a peek into John’s profile. John is an inspired, hardworking and conscientious high performer. John is great at stakeholder meetings and client-facing events. He is also an empathetic listener and hands on team player.

You could say John has high potential to be a leader: he’s a HiPo, i.e. he has been identified as having the potential, ability and aspiration for succession to leadership positions within the organisation. However, John has no management experience, having never officially led a team before. Apart from his own self-confidence and what some of his peers and his manager know, John has no concrete data to make a strong case. What’s more, John works in a dynamic firm with dozens of others who could possibly be vying for the same role.

So how can John progress his career? John could start preparing for his performance review conversations by gathering data. You see, future leaders are made long before they are earmarked for success. It comes from your own desire to excel. So what steps do you take to ensure you outshine those vying for that one coveted position?


Make a difference

Start by making a difference – within yourself and to those around you. Leaders don’t become leaders simply by being visionary or getting the job done. Their ability to influence, inspire and lead others, from teammates to external stakeholders, is what will get them noticed.

John C. Maxwell, in his book ‘Developing the Leader Within You’, suggests that:

“A leader is great not because of [their] power, but because of [their] ability to empower others.”

Businessperson and author Harvey Coleman has studied the reasons why people progress their career at different rates. He identified that an individual’s ability to perform their prescribed tasks makes up only ten percent of the overall career success of that individual. In his book, ‘Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed’, Coleman identified two other factors that carried more weight: a person’s image, which makes up thirty percent of their overall successfulness, and their ‘exposure’, meaning whether others knew about them and their value, as well as the ability to leverage networking relationships. This came in at a sixty percent.



As author David Avrin articulates: 

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” 

Who knows you and knows what you do is what will help you stand out above the crowd. One way to promote who you are and what you do is by being a robust team player.


Be a team player

We hear this quite a bit, but what exactly does it mean? And how does being a team player support your growth as a future leader? A team player supports not only their individual priorities, but also the team and its functions, and the organisation as a whole. By being a strong team player, you give yourself a better chance to stand out: the one who can support, influence and inspire the team is the one who can lead it.

Here are some ways you can demonstrate a team player attitude:

  • Volunteer yourself for projects: Either by assuming more responsibility for certain projects or taking on new projects as they arise. This helps to build up your profile, and assists in your professional development with new skills acquired. What’s more, leaders and recruiters alike will identify that you are driven by, not threatened by, challenges.
  • Keep current: It’s important to keep current on trends if you want to progress to a leadership status. After all, a leader is someone who leads the team towards development, so if you haven’t already researched business needs and emerging trends, how can you influence, inspire and lead others?
  • Support your team: If you call yourself a team player, you must exhibit the actions and behaviours that support your words. Walk the talk. Get involved in what your team is working on or striving for. Show your support by offering advice or assistance where required to steer the team to achieve a productive and positive outcome.
  • Celebrate successes: Celebrating the success of the team or organisation is important to boost engagement and motivation levels, as well as team camaraderie. The more you celebrate your team’s and organisation’s success, the more exposure you give yourself to the things that matter to those around you. In this way, you also give yourself a chance to provide support where needed.


This is where Emotional Intelligence comes into play.


Practise Emotional Intelligence

Aside from the influencing and team player skills required to be a leader, a big part of being a successful leader is emotional intelligence. And a big part of emotional intelligence is empathy and compassion. Listening plays a fundamental role in the success of this. So let’s look at each and how each contributes.

  • Empathy and compassion: Perception is an important aspect of influencing and inspiring others. After all, if you can’t see a situation from the perspective of the other party, how are you meant to influence or inspire them to action the desired outcome? And it’s not enough simply to understand, it’s important to also empathise. To really understand and explore the perspective or situation of the other person. Showing empathy and compassion increases the trust between you and the other party, and inspires a mutual respect, and a robust working relationship. By engaging with empathy, you can influence and inspire to an outcome you both believe is the right solution, not simply the best solution from your own viewpoint.
  • Listening: There is no greater quality in communication than the humble act of listening. By practising active and empathic listening techniques, you gain valuable insight into the situation and the other party’s position thereby increasing your knowledge and understanding, and building your leadership ability.


Set goals to position yourself as a leader

Remember the question many of us get when we face an interview or performance review conversation? Where do you see yourself in five years?

So, where do you see yourself? Start by setting realistic professional and personal goals for yourself then chart how you intend to meet those goals. When doing so, divide your goals into categories: immediate, six months, twelve months and long-term. Setting realistic goals also helps you plan, research and problem solve so that you consider any obstacles that will prevent you from reaching those goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask the same question back to your manager and the organisation you work for with an aim to add value. How can you align your professional and personal goals to that of the organisation? How can you invest time and energy into your own professional development to implement your career progression strategy?

So now it’s time to put this all together.

Start by adopting and implementing these steps to position yourself as a leader. Every step takes you closer to developing your professional career so you pave the way for progress – yours and the organisation you work for.

Now is as good a time as any to begin!

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