Build a Better Leadership Career Starting Today

Building a career in leadership isn’t easy. Building a career in leadership that suits you, that plays to your strengths and interests, that keeps you constantly interested and lets you progress to the best of your potential, that’s even tougher.

These five steps will help you to build a better leadership career – one that’s more fulfilling for you, and more likely to lead to success.

Only Shoot for the Goals You Really Want

Applying for a job that you aren’t suited to isn’t just a waste of the recruiter’s time and energy, it’s a waste of yours. Best case scenario, you don’t get the job and you get some useful feedback – feedback you could have got for less effort by other means. Worst case scenario, you end in the job, doing something you aren’t interested in or that’s a poor fit for your skillset. Nothing kills passion, and so the ability to push a career forwards, like being stuck in a joyless job.

So next time a relevant leadership post comes up at the level above yours, ask yourself if it’s really the post you want, or if you’re just considering applying because it’s there. Unless that specific role matches your interests and long-term career goals, save your time and energy. Spend the effort on doing your current job better, and that experience will stand you in good stead when the job you want comes up.

Use the Culture of Where You Work

There’s a time and place for going against the flow, but as tai chi practitioners know, the most efficient way to achieve anything is to adapt the flow of existing movement.

In career terms, this means working with the culture of where you work. Look at what opportunities for extra duties exist within the organization, identify the ones that interest you and will support your aims, and volunteer for them.

When you identify an opportunity to develop your skills, whether it’s through a training course, a conference or some other opportunity, think about how it fits with your employer’s aims and culture. Set out how the opportunity will help the organization and they’re more likely to fund it. Provide useful feedback to your organization afterwards, whether learning others can use or a list of useful contacts you’ve made, and you’re more likely to be given more opportunities like it.

Study What Matters Now

As a leader, some areas of study are timeless classics. You’ll gain a great deal from keeping on learning about people influencing techniques, change management, and ways to organize a business. But the best way to ensure that your career keeps moving forwards is to think about what’s relevant for you to study right now.

This may be a matter of what’s currently happening in the world, which might currently be social media techniques, the implications of Brexit, or how to work with Chinese businesses. It could be skills that are relevant to where your company is at, such as focusing on lean processes as your organization goes through a period of change. It might be skills relevant to what you want next, setting you up for the next step in the career ladder.

Whatever seems of immediate relevance, study its latest developments alongside the fundamental principles underlying it. That way, you’ll always be presenting the most cutting edge suggestions, not those that have come up a hundred times before.

Use Your Mistakes

Leaders can learn from their mistakes just as much as organizations can. What matters is that you learn from them.

This can be hard. It’s never easy to acknowledge when we’ve messed something up, even to ourselves. If you find yourself getting defensive on a topic, the odds are good that, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that something in your own outlook is wrong. Use that feeling to identify mistakes instead of to avoid facing them.

However, you identify a mistake, take the time to analyze it. If a meeting you were running didn’t go well then consider what you could do in future to encourage participation or manage the participants. If a project goes off the rails, look at what you missed in the planning process and don’t do the same next time. If you alienate a colleague, work out how it happened, and consider how to achieve a more positive relationship in future.

Mistakes are a powerful tool for self-improvement, so don’t hide from them.

Find the Positive When Things Go Wrong

However hard you try to shape your career, not everything will work out the way you want. Sometimes a dream job will turn out to be a carefully disguised nightmare. Sometimes you’ll be stuck for a while in a place you no longer want to be. Sometimes other people’s goals will simply conflict with your own.

When things get tough, look for the positives in the situation and the ways that you can improve it by building relationships. This way, you avoid being ground down by negativity, have the chance to achieve more from the situation, and develop your people skills.

Whatever your career aims, if you can stay focused on the things you want, adapt to the time and place you’re in, and make the most of negatives, then you’ll build a stronger career and be a better leader.