How to grow as a true leader

Valerie Rozova
June 2022


How to become a leader? Common answers are: "Let's discuss it in six months" or "Do this and that, and we'll see." 

In some cases, to become a leader, you need to befriend your boss or founder. But we are not into this approach. Instead, we advise working hard without silver bullets, life hacks, or "10 golden tips on becoming a leader in two months." No frills, just tools, and actions.

1. Develop managerial competencies systematically

Don't skip this part: it is the basics of other steps. The development tends to be chaotic because employees believe they can acquire skills and competencies within the workflow. However, this approach doesn't work for leaders. If you aim to become one, get an exact plan. For this, put down a list of competencies you need and create a PDP. It systematizes progress, fights the impostor complex, and enhances communication with managers. For instance, you will be ready to show your acquired competencies and learn what to improve.

Competencies are commonly divided into three groups:
  • professional or expert;
  • social;
  • managerial.

You can't cover the whole ground perfectly, but be sure to get the confident minimum of them all and master 3-4 competencies to the most.

Professional or expert competencies

Professional competencies vary. For instance, a chief accountant should know all financial statements, work with tax authorities, and keep documentation. Meanwhile, a design director should know all the design tools, build processes, create, and understand research.

Social competencies (soft skills or communicative competencies)

A specialist can simply write code and visit weekly retros, but for a manager, daily duties are not enough. This person needs to actively communicate with other talents. If you are introspective or tend to lack energy, you should consider your potential as a company or direction leader.

Remember: social competencies don't relate to "manipulations" or "self-belief". Next, they are exact and vary from company to company. To find out the ones your position requires, check the common competencies:

  • Communication. As a tool for achieving goals. Transparent and timely communication helps to find solutions with managers, teams, and business partners. Meanwhile, it includes public speaking, negotiations, and conflict resolutions.
  • Leadership. A manager doesn't work on their own but achieves goals with a team. A true leader can motivate and inspire talents, explain their work's importance, and take responsibility. Next, such a person can initiate projects and actions out of their areas of responsibility.
  • Management of business partners. As a rule, leaders are surrounded by other top managers. Though this skill is related to communication, it is about actions. Successful managers build interaction processes on time and gain their colleagues' support.

Managerial competencies

Managerial competencies include the ability to manage a team or part of the business. For some reason, similarly to soft skills, these competencies are regarded as something inborn or organically developing. They are poorly taught, hardly checked during job interviews, and scarcely considered during the promotion. The common approach is that if a person is a truly good specialist, they will be able to deal with the team. However, this strategy is wrong.

Young people are becoming leaders with increasing frequency, but, due to their age they lack experience and observation. Consequently, they have to work on their competencies consciously.

Managerial competencies include:
  • Hiring skills. Everyone is good at checking CVs, but just a few can do it efficiently. These skills are tested during decision-making. Try to answer whether you are sure that a new employee is needed, what problems this talent will solve, and how you have checked it. Next, you should be ready to determine the candidate's portrait and competencies, organize hiring, share responsibilities with a recruiter, analyze, and upgrade the funnel. 
  • Performance management. A good manager directs and adjusts the team's results via competent planning and goal-setting. Meanwhile, this person always considers team evaluation and development.
  • Team development skills. Working on personal development plans and systematic growth of each talent is a must. Unfortunately, managers often limit it to giving employees more complicated tasks. This approach is inefficient and simply overloads an inexperienced person. If you want to check similar mistakes, read this material.
  • Financial skills. Managers affect the company's finances directly. To prevent problems, you should understand its business model and economy. Meanwhile, a true leader can plan payrolls and budgets without the CFO.
  • Strategizing. As a leader, you need to plan the future at the company, department, specific project, or product level. Next, you should thoroughly inform the team. It must be able to make daily decisions without your direct involvement.

To develop competencies efficiently, you should adequately evaluate yourself. For this, initiate evaluation by supervisors, business partners, and team members as soon as possible. It will help you understand whether you are moving in the right direction and gradually grow into a leader.

2. Take care of your mental health

Potential leaders often lack several competencies at once. Sometimes it is the result of mental health issues. Leadership, team management, business partner management, and independence can't work without adequate self-esteem and self-confidence. Their absence leads to inhibition, lack of progress and initiative, impostor complex, and the fear of disastrous failure. 

Next, competencies related to strategy or performance require the absence of anxiety and unnecessary panic because your brain must fully concentrate on vision and improvement elaboration.

Cognitive errors also halt growth. Constant self-demands waste energy on expectations instead of work. Dramatization worsens problem-solving. Labeling people leads to difficulties in raising employees and building relationships.

TYPICAL has a golden rule: we never advise clients or candidates to consult psychotherapists because we have no right to do it. Meanwhile, our team has a few of them to do it expertly. Under their strict supervision, we regularly write materials on mental health. Here you can check one of them.

3. Understand the org chart and how to get in it

If the org chart has no place for you, you can't become a leader despite your talents and competencies. For instance, a senior designer in a company with two designers and the occupied position of a lead designer can't become a full-fledged leader. This person can do their best, and take some leader's responsibilities, but still have no chance because there is no position. The same is relatable for the only designer in a company where design is not very important. You can grow perfectly and aim for adjacent leading positions, but such a compromise will not last long.

The org chart helps to evaluate perspectives and ask the right questions. For instance, you can ask your manager about the company's growth and scaling, promotional path and criteria, your career trajectory, and the nearest future of your business direction. Explain that you need these answers to evaluate your future and growth areas.

4. Participate in the company's life

Though this involvement can be related to leadership or independence, we want to highlight it. As a rule, heads are opinion leaders on whom founders and stakeholders rely. If a person says that "this is not their job" or "it does not concern them", they are not likely to achieve their goal.

As a rule, promotion is for those who want it the most. If such people see something is wrong, they are the first to fix it. Any manifestations of leadership, initiative and indifference to the company increase your chances of promotion to manager. But don't regard this as a determinative. If you are proactive but lack competencies, your potential leadership will not last long.

5. Build trustworthy relationships with management and leaders

It is not about informal evenings with the boss in a bar. Instead, relationships should be professional, related to your work, and based on trust and respect. For instance, hate for a new employee, hired by your boss, is distrustful. Loud dissatisfaction with your boss's actions is disrespectful. No matter how accurate and honest you are, it's hard to understand a person who looks toxic, rude, or even dangerous.

Join a team with a leader whom you respect, trust, and regard as a guide without romanticization. Compromising from the start limits your growth potential. Next, to show your development, have constant feedback and analyze it.

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