As anyone in the C-suite will know, great leadership is both an art and a science. It takes years of failures, practice and determination to acquire. Although a few individuals possess great leadership skills naturally, most middle managers looking to move into an executive role will need to leverage their potential and build on their leadership foundations before they take the reins. Not only must they have a deep understanding of the industry and the business, but executive leaders must have the skills necessary to empower people to live out the organisation's values and serve as a trusted voice for guiding its direction.
If you’re looking to progress your career to the next level, these practical approaches can help with honing your leadership skills and priming yourself for an executive step up.
Build Influence in the Workplace
At an executive level, effective leaders establish influence that enables them to make an impact across every function of the organisation. Influence enables leaders to get results without the need to exert their seniority, and provides advantages such as a greater voice in strategic meetings, the capacity to tackle challenging issues whilst maintaining a positive connection, and the ability to motivate and generate support from employees and peers with ease.
Influence is centred around relationships, and is built through consistency, transparency and approachability. People are willing to follow a leader they trust and whom they believe prioritises their best interests. It’s important to invest in people by taking the time to understand their goals, perspectives and motivators. In addition, being upfront and sharing context, where appropriate, makes it easier to get buy-in and retain a good rapport, even when having difficult conversations.
Cultivate Executive Courage
Executive leaders need to be confident working across many different areas of the organisation. It is important for those aiming for promotion to go beyond their own area of expertise and gain an understanding of the various business units that enable the business to function. They also need to be prepared to take ownership and make difficult choices when necessary.
It takes "executive courage" to lead in this way, and it can only be built up with practice, which is why middle managers seeking to develop their skills should be willing to offer new ideas, try alternative approaches and take risks. Even if these endeavours result in failure, the act of stepping into uncomfortable and confrontational situations will help cultivate resilience, the confidence to take action and trust in your own abilities.
Foster Strategic Relationships
In the world of leadership development, many professionals benefit from going a step further than a mentor and building a strategic alliance with a coach. This can significantly reduce the learning curve when honing executive leadership skills. Whilst most leaders are well-aware of the importance of mentoring their teams, some forget that their own learning and development continues to be important, especially as they take on the responsibility of teaching and guiding others.
The difference between a coach and a mentor is that a coach has already achieved what you are aiming for and is probably from outside of the organisation. They can assist leaders with skill development, help them work through challenges, point out key strengths and help recognise and manage limitations. Investing in this relationship is an advantage at every stage of an executive career, which is why OnTalent's expert Career Management Services can be an amazing resource for those looking to upskill.
Model Accountable Leadership
Successful executive leaders take personal accountability for organisational performance and should be able to not only recognise but anticipate what the business needs to succeed. They have a full understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, and will actively identify initiatives that drive success and address issues before they arise. Similarly, accountable leaders are prepared to be liable for the results of both their own decisions and those of the people they manage. They are solutions-focussed and will always be the first to step up and find solutions when things go wrong.
Whilst taking on this level of responsibility can be intimidating, particularly those new to executive leadership, the key to modelling accountability is to be honest, be willing to say “I’m sorry”, seek input from others and know your limits.
The jump from middle or senior management to executive leadership is about stepping beyond the day-to-day operational role and instead cultivating a strategic mentality in order to drive the business forward. Ultimately, great leaders are always a work in progress, and advancing to executive leadership means building effective leadership skills for this next stage of your career.
OnTalent’s Career Management Services and executive recruitment expertise help to connect people with purpose, getting results for individuals and organisations alike. Whether you’re in a career transition, are looking to take the next step in your executive management journey or want to bolster your company’s leadership pipeline, get in touch to find out how OnTalent can help.