If you are a Baby Boomer, or even a Generation X professional, you will remember when there was a career ladder. It had rungs, levels, that showed you how to get from the bottom to the top, how to progress your career. At each rung or level, there were fairly clear cut performance expectations that if you met granted you the opportunity to step up to the next rung or level. Depending on how far up you wanted to go and how quickly, you could get to the top of your career.
Today young professionals do not have that luxury, that certainty about how to take their career where they want it to go. There is no career ladder or if there appears to be one, many of the rungs are broken and getting from where you are to the next level seems a huge leap, often impossibly big.
Those rungs disappeared when whole levels of middle management were “removed” in organisations. The traditional rungs for stepping up like seniority, technical expertise, excellent and/or advanced academic qualifications, loyalty or being a long term employee could no longer be relied on as promotional attributes. For those aspiring leaders, it has become increasingly difficult to ascertain how to develop a career in the present environment. This has caused considerable disillusionment in those young people who aspire to leadership in their professional or industry sector.
Instead of having a ladder, aspiring leaders find themselves in a maze,
often not knowing which way to go to get where they want.
Leadership and Management have Merged.
As well, there have been changes in the way we view leadership.
There was a time when we saw “management” and “leadership” as 2 separate identities. Managers managed tasks and made sure things were getting done. Leaders created a vision and inspired and motivated their people to work with them on making that a reality in the organisation, in other words helping the leader create a culture. While that distinction may still be appropriate for a few industry sectors, it does not service the purpose of organisations that are largely comprised of knowledge workers.
In these organisations, management and leadership merge and most organisations want their managers to not only manage their people and see that they are doing the work, but also have the skills to lead them by inspiring them and intrinsically motivating them to give 150%. Most who have trained as professionals in universities do not have well-developed skills in this area. They were given a body of professional knowledge and a set of skills in their professional area and were told that if you kept that knowledge and those skills up to date you would achieve excellence as a professional and success would follow. It’s just not like that, at least, not anymore.
Soft Skills have become Crucially Important.
What has become very important is the soft skills that professionals bring to their work. They are now considered one of the biggest skills gap in people and their absence a source of great concern in organisations recruiting professional staff. It’s the lack of people skills, interpersonal skills and communication skills, but also skills for managing and leading change, critical thinking and problem solving. For leaders and aspiring leaders skills like self-awareness, emotional intelligence, proactivity and resilience are crucially important. There is also an emphasis on self-leadership, self-management and self-mastery, with leaders being told that if you cannot manage and lead yourself, you have no right to expect to lead others. Again these are skills that many professionals have not placed emphasis on and have not considered them a priority as they have developed their careers.
Act Like A Leader And Attract Leadership To You.
If you are a young aspiring leader wondering how you can develop your career, how you can make leadership when there appears to be no sure ladder to climb the best way you can get there is to “Act like a Leader and Attract Leadership to You”. This is a program I conduct for people like you. The easiest way to be promoted to leadership is having your CEO or senior executive see you acting as a leader even though you have no status or title as such. The way you Be in your organisation becomes a live, on going interview!
A typical scenario in organisations today is “downsizing” within departments or even the entire organisation. It usually happens via a restructure where, for example, leadership positions reduce from 4 to 1. Everyone has to reapply for the fewer positions than were there before. So 3 people who have presented themselves in interview as having “exceptional” leadership skills miss out on the one actual leadership position.
What happens next is decisive. Naturally these people will be disappointed. That’s an acceptable feeling. What often happens, however, is that those people who miss out do not react in a constructive way. They do not accept the offer of their empathic CEO to spend time with her/him to have explained to them why they missed out and to help them determine where they go next, what they need to do and be to be considered for the next promotional opportunity that arises.
Instead they bad mouth their CEO to whoever will listen. They make derisive comments about the person who got the leadership position. They disengage and won’t co-operate with their CEO. They show poor skill development in all the areas that make for good leadership, for example, emotional intelligence, resilience, proactivity and self-awareness. More importantly, they prove by their actions that the right decision was made by the CEO not to appoint them.
So if you are an aspiring leader, your best move may not be to return to university and get yet another qualification. Instead it may be to get yourself a mentor who can walk the road to leadership with you, helping you to be a leader in the now and demonstrate to your CEO your potential in the future.