Even if you are not yet a leader, there are ways to build your own pathway to leadership by becoming the best possible employee. Here are five stepping stones to becoming a better employee and thus building a pathway to leadership.
Ask for clarification
This one tool will improve every area of your life and will set you up for becoming a leader at some point. Here’s why: In all drama there is always a lack of clarity. When you aren’t sure what is expected, you’re more likely to fail. When your boss piles too many competing projects on your plate and you aren’t clear about the real priority, someone is going to be disappointed. As an employee, you owe it to yourself and your boss to seek clarification any time you are overwhelmed, confused or misunderstood.
How to ask for clarification:
- “My understanding last week was to finish the quarterly report before investing time doing XYZ. Can you clarify your expectations where these two priorities are concerned?"
- “I haven’t yet received the information from you to complete the project. With that in mind, when do you expect the project to be completed?”
- “I’d like to understand how I will be evaluated for this project.”
When you make clarity a priority, you protect yourself while supporting your boss to have realistic expectations. In addition, you learn early on how to use clarity as a tool for better results.
Master the skills
If you struggle at any part of your job you owe it to yourself to get the help you need to master the skill sets -- both soft and hard skills. Rather than investing the energy to cover up your inadequacies, seek a mentor, ask for the opportunity to take a formal course or decide to study on your own. The challenge here is to seek feedback about how others view your skill sets. In other words, you may not struggle, but your lack of skill may be causing others to struggle. You won’t know unless you ask.
A great resource is LinkedIn Learning, where for a nominal membership fee you can learn anything from Having Difficult Conversations to project management to software development. Unfortunately, not all workplaces train their employees adequately, however you have to take responsibility for your career. In doing so, you set yourself up to be a future leader or executive.
Your boss and colleagues can be a great resource, but don’t fall into the lazy habit making your boss your first go-to person. Show that you are a critical thinker. Do some informal research and come up with ideas before going to your boss to fix your issue. Instead of complaining about what you don’t have, come up with options of how to fill the gaps. Show the business case of why the company should invest or budget for that new piece of equipment. Paint the picture of how much more productive you would be if you had the resources that are missing. Make your case about results and productivity instead of about easing your own work-load.
Ownership is a state of mind and a heartfelt commitment. When you take ownership, you show your interest and initiation, instead of just showing up, clocking in and waiting for direction. You don’t need a babysitter. You don’t need to be prodded. Perhaps your boss is difficult to work with. You might say, “If you knew how my boss micromanages you would know how impossible it is to really take ownership.”
But the point is, if you are still working for the micromanager, you still have to own the fact that you are still there. Even when you work for a micromanager, you can take some ownership by seeking clarification, becoming resourceful, and using conversations to drive results. If you truly feel stuck where you are, map out a plan to transfer to a different department or different boss more suitable for your growth. Taking ownership while you are an employee helps you to walk the talk when you become a boss.
While ownership is about mindset, accountability is about measurement. Even if your executive isn’t regularly having conversations about performance, you can keep your own score. Document how many sales calls you made each day and then report this back to your boss. Your awareness may elevate or you may feel discouraged. Sometimes. we think our results are better than they really are. Measurement will help you see the truth about your own performance, help you to create realistic expectations and set stretch goals.
Make a game out of the numbers by comparing last quarter’s sales with this quarter. Connect the dots between the numbers and your results, whatever they may be. Become a scientist and experiment with different kinds of measurements. This insight will make you a great manager when it’s your turn.
As an employee, it’s often easy to see your boss’ shortcomings. The truth is, leadership is not easy. One path to becoming a great leader is to put yourself in the leader’s shoes. What kind of employee would be a leader’s dream? Then, become that employee. When you think strategically about who you would be if you were a leader and you become that person even before earning the title, your journey will be easier and ultimately more rewarding.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and "7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice" (Greenbranch 2018). Download "The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results." Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and at MarleneChism.com