“Fake it ’til you make it.” That advice may have helped previous generations leap up the corporate ladder, but in today’s data-driven, continually disrupted world of work, pretending your way to the top doesn’t work—and it wreaks havoc on your confidence level, not to mention your stress level.
In the age of transparency, people tend to see through the bluff and bluster. What’s more, you need to be able to make strong, secure decisions. The only way to do that is to get yourself some real-world leadership experience.
Below are some tips on how to acquire the skills and subsequent confidence needed to stand out as a prime candidate for a management promotion. Remember: You don’t have to wait for anyone to give you a chance. You can make your own “luck” by being proactive and seeking out upskilling opportunities.
1. Get yourself some on-the-job leadership practice.
The best way to learn any activity is to do it yourself. You can read all the leadership books and articles in the world. Yet you won’t know exactly what to do in situations until you can apply what you learn.
Unfortunately, remote and hybrid work environments have made it more challenging to gain additional experience during the normal course of business. Instead, you may have to find unique strategies to expand your leadership savvy, such as volunteering to manage remote projects or being the one who evaluates what the best format would be for upcoming initiatives.
Depending on your industry, your company may also offer contextual online simulations. Willem Pennings, vice president of global professional services firm BTS, explains that “the only way to truly understand something is by doing it.” His company works with companies to build simulations that mimic their business challenges. Simulations can require up to 100 different problem-solving moments, all of which lead to a final outcome.
No matter what, you can always construct your own “simulations” by evaluating leadership decisions made frequently by your department heads: Would you do anything differently? If so, what would it be? How would it potentially unfold? Mapping out various possibilities will help you hone your strategy-making abilities.
2. Adopt the practice of micro-learning.
When authors and executive training experts Julian Birkinshaw, Maya Gudka, and Steve Marshall explored the best models for learning today, they realized that old-school setups just didn’t work well anymore. As a result, their recommendation for training tomorrow’s leaders is through iterative, sprint-like learning.
Choose a micro-topic that fills a clear need on your team. Is there a recurring pitfall in your communication plan? Or a feature in your software that would improve efficiency, but no one else wants to take the time to figure out how to use it? Don’t just be the one who solves the problem; leadership is also about learning how to learn, using best practices. Learning a concept and then applying it right away helps you retain more information. It can also allow you to receive instant feedback on whether you actually understand what you learned or need to study it more.
Again, your employer may not offer micro-learning tools such as mini-modules available in a centralized learning system. That’s OK. You can always find information online once a week and incorporate what you discover into your job. For example, you may spend an hour or more examining ways to be empathetic. You can focus the coming days on folding more empathy into your dealings with coworkers or even customers. Little by little, you’ll be training yourself to be the type of leader companies need now.
3. Ask for ancillary assignments and do an outstanding job on them.
It’s not about simply taking on more work (that’s a fast track to burnout). It’s about being strategic in taking on projects that are just outside your wheelhouse but play an important supporting role in the team’s overall success. These don’t have to be leadership assignments, per se. But they should stretch your comfort zone so you can explore untapped capabilities.
What if your boss is a bit stingy about giving people more power? Executive coach Heather MacArthur suggests creating an informal business plan. In your plan, lay out how you’ll juggle your current responsibilities as well as how giving you more projects—that are highly targeted, not busywork—will help your team. MacArthur goes over some of the key questions to ask yourself during this planning process, including: “How would you doing this new work save or make money?” and “How could it elevate morale or build relationships?”
Your manager might hesitate to give you too much at once. Just accept what you can, do a great job, and ask for more. Doing great, consistent, beneficial work will showcase your desire and commitment to aim higher. The more competent you become, the more confident you feel.
Becoming a full-fledged leader means more than dressing the part or acting as if you know what you’re doing. To rise up the ranks, you need to take ownership of your progress and reward yourself every time you reach a new level of true strength.
William Arruda is a keynote speaker, co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and creator of the 360Reach personal brand feedback survey which allows you to get the real scoop about your professional reputation from those who know you.