Leaders can usually tell who they’re going to eventually promote.
That’s because certain individuals start leading others long before they wear the title of Manager, Vice President, or Executive. They intuitively understand how to speak to people’s wants and needs to drive action. They are very good at picking up on subtle cues from team members and knowing where to step in and help. And, most importantly, they don’t wait for someone else to tell them what to do or how to get started. They are go-getters, and take it upon themselves to ask questions and avoid staying stuck.
The key is to give these natural leaders opportunities for their skills to be maximized, and put them on a career path that allows their talents to flourish.
So, whether you are a manager or department head thinking about who to promote next, or an ambitious employee questioning what you can do to unlock the next big opportunity in your career, here are the qualities that separate the good from the great:
1. Initiative. You don’t wait for the promotion to start taking on more responsibility.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in their careers is waiting for permission or formal appointment before doing what they see needs to be done.
Said differently, you don’t have to be a people manager to be a leader. You don’t even need to be in a leadership role (project manager, team lead, etc.) to be a leader. There is only one thing you need to be a leader: followers. So the truth is, you “become” a leader the moment you have a compelling idea and can rally other people to say, “Hey, that’s a great idea. How can I help you realize that? How can I best support you?”
A job title isn’t what makes this happen.
Positive energy, excitement, inspiration, and doing good work are what move people to take action.
2. Organization. You take it upon yourself to create structure to get things done.
During a previous chapter of mine at SAP, I had someone who always took charge when it came to the social events within our team.
Whenever we would travel somewhere as a group, she was the one who would work with everyone to pick the restaurants, organize the menus, and make sure people knew where they were going. She didn’t wait for me or anyone else to do these things—she saw we were lacking structure, and took it upon herself to provide it.
What stood out to me though was that in past conversations about her career she had said, “I’m not sure I’m ready for a leadership role.” And all the while, she was acting as a leader.
This happens all the time: leaders see leadership qualities in others long before they see it in themselves. Which is why, if you are in a people-management position, your job is to help these individuals become aware of their innate and natural talents. (And yes, she was promoted and has continued to rise in the organization ever since.)
3. Motivation. You understand that in order to get things done, you need to persuade others to sign on and support you.
Regardless of where you are on the org chart, your job title isn’t the reason someone will choose to follow and support you.
The real reason people choose to give you their best is because you have found a way to speak to their wants, needs, desires, and interests. You have identified what motivates them, and found ways to draw connections between your objective and their intrinsic motivations. In some cases, people will feel motivated because they want to be part of something successful. In others, people will just genuinely love the idea and want to see what happens. Whatever the reason, understanding it is the key to convincing them to follow you. Managers can order people to do things, but true leaders inspire others to action by showing them how, in some way, you both share the same goal.
At the end of the day, innate leadership can be boiled down to one word: authenticity.
The more you can see leadership as a part of who you are, and not something you “do,” the more people will see you as a person to pay attention to. Leadership is not just about getting things done, or checking tasks off your To Do list, or feeling like the boss. It’s about building connections with your team members and the people around you in a way that enables action.
And the more effective you are, the more people will want to follow you.