It has been said that leadership cannot be learned and that it is an innate ability. While that may be true to a degree, there are steps young professionals can take to hone their innate leadership abilities through experience early in their careers. If you are seeking to be seen as a potential leader or how to attain future leadership positions at your company or organization, here are a few steps you can take to position you on the right path.
1. Grow Your Network to Grow Your Potential Leadership Opportunities
While leadership opportunities available to you may appear to be narrow based on your limited experience or conversely may seem endless if you are at a large organization or school, use your creativity to uncover the right leadership opportunities for you. Consider expanding your network and looking for leadership opportunities by joining and becoming active in student or professional groups, industry organizations, nonprofits, or even community groups that fit your interests. You can grow as a leader while also giving back to your company, organization and community.
2. Connect with Leaders You Admire
Look around your life and workplace for leaders you want to learn from and boldly ask them to serve as your mentors or sponsors. Take time to meet with them regularly – it can be 30 minutes once a month over a cup of coffee. Prepare in advance for your conversations so you can make the most of your time and theirs. Ask specific questions to obtain their advice from their own experience. You do not know if you do not ask – they were once in the same position that you are. They may also be able to provide ideas for leadership opportunities that could be a good fit for your skills and interests as they get to know you better. You do not have to forge a path to leadership alone – look to leaders in your reach and expand your circle as you navigate your own path to leadership.
3. Learn the Difference Between a Mentor and a Sponsor – and Seek Both
Large companies may have a formal mentorship program that matches you with a mentor, but this is certainly not mandatory for mentorship. Mentoring can take many forms – it can be informal or formal, it can last a season or length of a career, it can be strictly professional or evolve into a friendship. Both mentors and sponsors can support your career growth – while a mentor serves as an advisor and sounding board, a sponsor serves as an advocate. A sponsor can help open doors for you to leadership opportunities both inside and outside your company. Both types of relationships can be utilized to grow your leadership skills and opportunities – and can also serve as a growth opportunity for your mentors and sponsors.
4. Know Your Strengths, Weaknesses and How They Both Can Be Opportunities for Growth
Some leaders are powerful persuaders and others are influential speakers, while the best leaders possess both skills. You may already be well aware of your strengths or need some assistance in articulating them. Either way, it is prudent to do an assessment of your strengths to determine what kind of leadership role is right for you. Having an unbiased perspective of your strengths and weaknesses (which can also be considered areas for growth) can be useful to tell the story of who you are as a potential leader. Ask your peers, managers, mentors and friends to validate your strengths. They may help you see past your blind spots and uncover leadership skills you did not realize you had.
5. Determine If/What Leadership is Right for You and Continue to Re-Assess Your Decision
The final piece to figure out is what type of leadership is the right fit for you. You can do this by following these tips and using your experiences to determine your ultimate leadership style goal. You may find leadership fits your personal life but not your professional life or vice versa – or that leadership does not interest you at this point in time. Your goals may change over time as you continue on your career journey, depending on what opportunities present themselves. Remain open to new opportunities that may push you out of your comfort zone and re-assess your decision as you move forward professionally to determine if you are still headed in the right direction.
Editor’s note: For more resources for young professionals, visit www.isaca.org/young-professionals.