If you feel stuck in the “middle lane” of middle management, struggling to merge into the fast lane of executive leadership, it’s time for a tune-up. You might be the hardest-working member of your team, supervising dozens of employees who sacrifice their weekends whenever you ask them to, but that doesn’t make you a leader. Add these five elements to your professional life, and watch your success accelerate:
1. Increase your visibility. It may feel productive to spend hours at your desk, churning out good results, but to maximize the rewards, you have to get out of your chair. Great leaders understand the importance of building relationships. Make it a point to have lunch with new hires, or with colleagues in other areas of your firm. Instead of solving everything through a quick email, take the time to stop by a co-worker’s office and discuss an issue face-to-face. In the virtual world, there have never been so many ways to generate a fan base. Tweet your team’s success stories. Post your thought leadership on LinkedIn. Participate in discussions in professional groups online.
2. Discuss the bigger picture. Managers focus on the task at hand. Leaders think about the future of the organization. In meetings—even one-on-one sessions with your boss—arrive prepared to deliver much more than a quick status report. How is your project contributing to the long-term success of the company? How can your team’s success be replicated in other opportunities? How is your personal brand—those traits that make you uniquely you—an asset to the organization’s mission?
3. Ask strategic questions. Earlier this year, I had the honor of interviewing Michael Bungay Stanier, founder of undefinedBox of Crayons. In his latest book, The Coaching Habit, he discusses essential questions that leaders can ask in order to stoke success in their teams. One of his most compelling tactics is to ask broad questions that give the team the freedom to unearth new ideas. A manager will ask specific questions like “Why are we over budget?” But a true leader will take the risk of asking questions like “What’s on your mind?” followed up with “And what else?” It’s a deceptively simple question that truly pushes people past the superficial levels. Stanier also encourages his clients to cut to the chase when they ask questions, picturing the way a James Bond film starts. “Don’t do the lead-in,” Stanier recommends. “Just ask the question. Get there fast.”
4. Mentor other managers and always have a mentor. When it comes to your expertise and your network, be a mentor, not a miser. Don’t treat your skills and your contacts as a proprietary trade secret just because you’re afraid a colleague will steal your thunder. Unless you’re one of the few managers who operate under an internal non-disclosure agreement, or you’re in sales and are required to protect your leads, be generous with your resources. True leaders are always willing to share their wisdom and lend a hand to a co-worker who is flailing in choppy waters. By becoming the in-house consultant everyone can count on, you’re doing much more than sharing information; you’re building trust and loyalty. At the same time, have an insatiable curiosity about alternative ideas, asking stakeholders at all levels to teach you something new every day.
5. Unleash your inner innovator. Eye-catching packaging says “new and improved” for a reason. Continually immerse yourself in inspiration—whether it’s from advertising (I’m a connoisseur of great television ads) or a visit to one of the national parks or a mind-blowing concert or a TED Talk. A manager says, “Don’t rock the boat.” A leader is constantly on the lookout for not only new ways of doing things but, more importantly, new ways of seeing the infinite possibilities for the way we live, even if it means taking calculated risks.
Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox (and currently the only African American, female CEO in the Fortune 500), joined the company as an intern in 1980. She has been widely quoted as saying, “We all need to be a little more impatient,” and part of her personal brand is a passion for rejecting the status quo. That mentality surely propelled her to the C-Suite, and it can put you on the fast track too.
This article was written by William Arruda from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.