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Emerging from a sea of smart leaders

3 min read


Many of the leaders I work with are considered “high potential” to move to higher levels within their organizations. They are all really smart.

That’s a problem for anyone who has gained a certain prestige in an organization because of what they know, and it isn’t enough to stand out from the crowd. Look around and notice that your peers — all vying for a smaller number of senior executive level positions in the company — are smart, too.

All of those smart people are recognized and appreciated for what they know, just like you are. They are given developmental opportunities, challenging work to improve their skills, and resources to get them ready for what’s next. Just like you.

If you’re just as smart as everyone else, how will you differentiate yourself in a sea of smart leaders?

You’ve staked your career on your brilliance. So has everyone else in the high-potential pool. So now it’s time to stand out and be different from all of those other smart leaders. You need to give the decision-makers (those who are responsible for what’s next in your career) something to talk about. They’re watching you. Start preparing for that next promotion by:

Observing senior executives. What behaviors do the senior leaders that you admire at your company exhibit? They might be good at influencing others. They may even be inspiring. They may be very good at articulating a vision. They are probably trustworthy, in that they do what they say they will do. They are talent magnets. Watch them. What are they doing that you aren’t? How might you incorporate the types of behaviors you see that will separate you from the other smart leaders at your organization?

Being intentional about your behavior. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants anymore. To stand out, you need to set some goals and make a plan for your new behaviors. Set aside some time to think about and write out your plan (because what gets written has a better chance of getting done). Imagine what others will see you doing when you are influencing, inspirational and visionary, etc.

Acting and talking “as if.” Simply observing those executives you admire and writing out a plan is a great start, but you need to do more. You have to decide what you’d like to try and then do it. Be courageous, take some risks and be willing to step out of the smart box you’re in and allow others to see you as the leader that you are fully capable of being. Act as if you are already there (careful, don’t go too far or others might see you as arrogant).

Get feedback. We all have blind spots. You might think you’re doing wonders, yet others see your leadership gaps more readily than you will. With some humility and courage, share your plan and ask for feedback from the stakeholders around you. Getting feedback is a cornerstone for improvement to becoming a great leader. What’s working? Keep doing it. What’s not? Tweak it or stop doing it. Keep practicing.

Give those promotion decision-makers something to talk about. While your peers are resting on their knowledge, it’s time for you to step up to being seen as the next senior executive in the company. It won’t just happen on it’s own; you need to start working on it.