At this time of year it’s natural to indulge in a little introspection – but don’t get bogged down in your past. Insight comes from experience and you’re only going to get that by taking action. So make a New Year’s resolution to quit all the self-reflection and get moving.
In my book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, I challenge the fallacy that people change from the inside out. Rather, we need an outside-in approach. I call this outsight. Outsight is what will help you transition from your current job to a bigger leadership role. So how do you develop it? By testing your old assumptions and experimenting with new possibilities.
Begin by making changes in how you do your job, what kinds of relationships you form and how you do what you do.
Have a really close look at what you’re doing in your present job. What do you spend most of your time on? Often it’s the things you excel at, but that’s a competency trap. The more you do what you’re really good at, the less you develop the things you’re less good at – and the more people pigeonhole you. The opportunity costs are huge. I see so many people who are trapped because they’re a lifeline to their boss who can depend on them to deliver.
New experiences don’t just change how you think – they change who you become
Be creative and look at what else you might do, within and outside your organisation. What you could do less of, what could you do more of – and what new activities could you add? Join a taskforce or a working group outside your day-to-day role. The perspectives you’ll gain from doing new things and meeting new people will take you outside yourself, your habitual thinking and your silos.
Plunge into new projects and activities, interact with different kinds of people and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. New experiences don’t just change how you think – they change who you become, let go of old habits and reshape your self-image as you realise what you’re capable of. Through doing things differently your true authentic self will emerge. Slowly but surely, a more central and enduring leader identity will start to take root within you.
Also ask yourself how you do your job. Are you a hub, at the centre of the action – or a bridge, spanning boundaries? What could you do to act as a link pin, still working in your group but helping connect it to the outside? What is relevant externally that you can learn about and connect back in?
A lot of people dislike the idea of networking because they think it’s about going to an organised drinks session and exchanging business cards. Think of your network more broadly as a set of people who help advance your career and get things done professionally. Whether you’re looking to move into a bigger role or to change careers, your network is what’s going to help you or limit you. It shows you what’s out there and then gives you the help and resources to make it possible.
If your network isn’t growing, you’re not going to grow
If you’re to advance, you need a network that reaches out beyond people like you. The extent to which your network will help you step up to leadership depends on three qualities, which I call the BCDs of network advantage. Aim to develop a network that has breadth, connectivity and dynamism. Does your network contain a broad range of people? Can you join the dots across different networks? Is your network growing and expanding with you or is it stuck in the past because those are the people you’ve always known and it’s reassuring?
If your network isn’t growing, you’re not going to grow. Think about what you do with these groups you interact with and what can you show them about yourself. View your job as a portfolio of activities and your network will necessarily change. Connect with people in real life, not just on LinkedIn. The minute you’re doing new things with new people, it’s going to change who you are.
You’ve shifted your work – what activities you do. You’ve shifted your network – who you interact with. Now you need to change how you do what you do. You can’t just say, “My new leadership style is going to be x” and expect to become that person. What you can do is say, “Alright, it does seem that there’s a different style that’s required as you move forward.”
Play around with different possibilities, stretch outside your comfort zone
Maybe it requires more presence and charisma in how you communicate and sell your ideas. Maybe it requires you to collaborate more rather than being autocratic. You don’t know how to do this, so it isn’t going to feel natural at first. The transition can feel uncomfortable because it takes you outside your comfort zone.
Thought follows action. Don’t attempt to change the essence of who you are today. Instead, think, “What if I just try this?” It’s about altering your habits. For example, you might go to one of those networking events that you hate and approach it as a learning experiment. Going up to a stranger and introducing yourself isn’t something you normally do – so do it. Afterwards, ask yourself, how did I do? Learn from it and use it to guide you.
Doing things as you always have is keeping you stuck. In today’s business world, where the pace of change is ever faster and agility is at a premium, what made you successful so far is the same thing that can keep you from succeeding in the future. So try something else. Play around with different possibilities, stretch outside your comfort zone and see what you learn.
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