All Articles Leadership Careers When a leadership opportunity knocks, are you ready?

When a leadership opportunity knocks, are you ready?

4 min read


Are you ready to take your leadership game to a higher level?

If your answer is, “Yes! I’m in!” congratulations. Taking ownership of your desire for improved leadership skills is an important first step. Next up: you must convince others that you’ve got what it takes play on a bigger field. Be it through a promotion or bidding for a high-visibility project, it’s not enough to feel prepared on the inside – you need to visibly demonstrate your readiness to lead at a more sophisticated level.

It’s not only your boss (and his or her boss) who must understand the value you bring to the organization; there are countless others who can help you advance your career. When you show others beyond your departmental ecosystem that you’re ready to lead, you significantly increase the likelihood of securing a rewarding new challenge.

Do others beyond your immediate supervisor think you’re ready to step into a bigger leadership role? Here’s how to tell:

Who’s pitching you? You need advocates throughout the organization who will be on the lookout for opportunities as they arise. Sometimes called “sponsors,” these people are members of your company’s senior leadership team; they’re the ones who are having conversations about who is ready to play a bigger game. If your name isn’t mentioned, guess what? You aren’t going to advance.

  • Has word gotten back to you that a senior manager was singing your praises?
  • How often do you talk up the contributions of other star players, showing that you’re not in it only for yourself?
  • Have you specifically stated that you are interested in advancing your career to someone other than your boss?

Are you seen as strategic? When you become known for your strategic mind in addition to your technical chops, you will be seen as ready to move to the next level in your career. Some ways to detect how others see your strategic ability:

  • Do senior-level leaders seek out your opinions in key meetings?
  • Are you invited to sit on cross-functional task teams — not just for your technical expertise, but also for your strategic thinking abilities?
  • Whenever discussions get mired in minutiae, are you able to pull the group back on track by discussing the overall strategic objective?
  • Do colleagues seek you out because they value your ability to see the big picture?

How well-connected are you? As matrix organizational structures grow in popularity, the ability to influence across organizational boundaries will set you apart from other technically competent colleagues. Knowing how all functions of your company interconnect shows that you understand the mechanics of your business. It also increases the likelihood that your name will be mentioned for plum assignments. You are well-connected if:

  • You can name at least one person with whom you’ve worked on a project for each of your company’s key functional areas.
  • People seek you out to make introductions to others in the organization.
  • You are familiar with a handful of key business initiatives that aren’t directly related to your functional expertise.

The old saw that “perception is reality” certainly applies in the case of career advancement. It’s not enough for you to be ready to take on a bigger role at work; you also must be seen as being ready. The good news is that you have a measure of control over the perception of your readiness. By seeking out advocates, building your strategic thinking skills and creating connections throughout your organization, you will be seen as ready when opportunity knocks.

Jennifer V. Miller helps mid-career professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the managing director of SkillSource, blogs at The People Equation and tweets via @JenniferVMiller.