You’re ambitious. Goal-oriented. And hungry for career growth. Your next step into a leader role is so close… you can almost reach it. You know you’re capable; you’ve achieved great things in the past. And yet, something is holding you back. Chances are, if you’re stuck in aspiring to a leadership role — without making it happen — you just may be standing in your own way without realizing it. Following are a few common challenges that aspiring leaders often believe to be roadblocks — along with specific actions you can take to overcome them:
Challenge: “I don’t have (or never had) a mentor”
A mentor can be more than a role model; a mentor can also be a sounding board for your ideas. But what if you don’t have one? How do you find someone that’s a good fit — and/or willing to fulfill that role?
If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers a mentorship program, grab the opportunity! If you’re on your own, however, here are some ways to identify a good mentor, to approach them with the idea and to get the process rolling.
Start by looking inside yourself. What do you really want or need from a mentor? What are your short- and long-term goals? How – specifically — do you see a mentor helping with that? You’ll need to do the thought-work here; don’t rely on a potential mentor to figure it out for you.
Be specific. Write down your thoughts and form them into a clear request. Include your goals, proposed structure and duration for mentorship, and state how you see the person helping you. This will help any candidate for mentor to understand your requested commitment. Share your request with a few trusted people to get a check on the clarity, and take the time to edit if needed.
Be creative in your selection. Mentors can come from anywhere, and maybe yours is not in your function, or even in your company. Be open-minded!
Keep trying. If someone says no, don’t take it personally; it just wasn’t a fit, and that’s fine! Don’t give up; take your request to another candidate.
Challenge: “I’m seen as a doer, not a leader”
When you excel as an individual contributor, your leadership team may not “see” you as a potential leader. Or, they may assume that your current role is the best (or only) one for you. What if you want more? How do you make the shift from doer or expert to leader?
Again, start by looking inward. Do you see yourself as a leader? What’s your own self-talk about that? So often, we want others to perceive us in a different way — but we ourselves don’t even have that perception yet!
Begin shifting your own mindset. Don’t rely on others to do what you haven’t done yet. Spend some time reflecting and defining yourself as a leader. What is your style? Your strengths? What would be the appropriate level of stretch situation for you to take on?
Take an honest inventory of yourself. What types of tasks or roles do you currently volunteer for — “doing” or “leading”? I had a client who was so good at executing — so good at cleaning up other people’s messes — that he was “rewarded” over and over again with more of the same assignment. He actually had to leave the company to gain a leadership position.
Engage your manager. It’s surprising how many people want to be promoted into a lead role, but they never actually stated that to their boss. Have you made a clear request to your manager for stretch assignments that give you leadership opportunity and visibility? And have you made an unequivocal statement of your career goals?
Challenge: “I lack confidence around my higher-ups”
Developing executive courage is foundational to effective leadership – but it can be hard to act in a confident manner, particularly if you feel intimidated by individuals who hold higher positions than you in the corporate structure.
Check your mindset. A lack of confidence often comes from your own limiting beliefs about yourself. Do you think you aren’t good enough? Smart enough? Expert or experienced enough? Making unfounded assumptions and comparisons in your head is damaging because it creates a mood — and the behaviors — of lack of confidence.
Get feedback. If you haven’t received any feedback about your behavior and demeanor when you are around more senior leaders, then it’s time to ask. Pick someone that you trust — and can directly observe you — and ask for their honest assessment.
Close gaps. If there are gaps you need to close, it might not feel great for you to hear that. However, that knowledge now gives you the power to do something about it! Seek training, mentoring or coaching to change your mindset and self-talk, as well as work on how you present yourself verbally and non-verbally.
And … Stop assuming. Consider learning about different personality styles or communication styles — both yours, and your key senior leaders. You may feel intimidated by a leader’s direct or even commanding style of speaking, when that leader is just trying to be efficient and get things done. It is very common to assume the wrong thing, simply based on style differences.
Challenge: “I’m a young woman in a male-dominated workplace”
Advancements in equality aside, if you’re one of a handful (or less) of women in an industry or company run by men, you might feel like a fish out of water – and a very small fish at that.
Take a look at your own self-perception. How do you think of yourself? You can’t control what others think of you, but you have to be completely bought in to whatever you’re asking others to think of you. For example, I once had a very accomplished, very ambitious female coaching client who referred to herself as a “girl” (rather than a woman, or a leader) — and didn’t realize that she was undermining her own self.
Own it. Get honest with yourself. Are you willing to fully own and embody the title of manager, leader or executive? Do you believe that you have a right to “be at the table” with the guys? While your belief in yourself is not a guarantee of advancement, it is a pre-requisite.
Determine any blind spots. It’s important to get feedback on how you are using language and non-verbal communication. (And by the way, this is true for anyone, not just women in male-dominated companies.) Along with changing your mindset, you’ll likely need to work on your somatic communication. Are you sending unintended messages through your tone of voice, gestures or microexpressions? Do you use unnecessary placeholders (e.g., uhhhh, ummmm) or soften your ideas with phrases like “I think” or “in my opinion” without realizing it? Ask a trusted colleague or a coach to observe you and reflect back to you.
What’s holding you back from reaching your leadership potential? Learn to recognize the blind spots that sabotage your success, reduce your stress levels and achieve your greatest goals through our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshop series.
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