7 Signs of a Leader in the Making

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By Hannah Morgan

If you've set your sights on becoming a supervisor, general manager or executive, you can begin building the necessary skills today.

Football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile." Those wise words apply to your career, too.

It isn't enough to want a promotion into a leadership position. You have to do the hard work to prepare yourself and gain recognition within your organization, which is often easier said than done.But there is hope. Organizations are increasingly concerned about succession planning and holding on to good employees. The cost of recruiting new talent is high, and there is a degree of risk involved whenever someone from the outside is hired. The desire to promote the best candidate from within the organization may result in identifying and tracking high-potential employees earlier in the pipeline and improving measurements.

Korn Ferry, a talent management organization, conducted a global succession planning survey that assessed how companies identified and developed future leaders. "The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are," states Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute, in the survey's press release.

You've probably seen what happens when the right criteria and clear measurements weren't used to promote someone. It is easy for companies to fall into the trap of promoting top performers. This is known as the Peter Principle. While top performers were great at the job, they may lack the characteristics and skills to be effective in the new role. For example, a top performing salesperson may not always have the ability to motivate a team and develop strategies that best meet the corporation's financial objectives. Without these skills, the newly promoted sales manager would most likely struggle.

If your goal is to rise up through the ranks to leadership, begin developing the skills and traits valued in leadership roles and gain recognition for being competent and capable. Start with these seven signs of leadership identified by Korn Ferry:

1. A track record of formative experiences. Have you successfully handled any of the job requirements in leadership roles?

2. Learning agility. Have you taken what you've learned from previous experiences and applied it in different or new situations?

3. Self-awareness. Do you solicit feedback? Have you identified your strengths and weaknesses? Are you taking steps to improve where necessary?

4. Leadership traits. What qualities have you demonstrated that would be valued in more senior positions? Popular leadership traits include decisiveness, honesty and assertiveness.

5. The drive to be a leader. Do you seek out more challenging opportunities inside and outside of work?

6. Aptitude for logic and reasoning. How well do you analyze information, create innovative solutions to complex problems and develop strategies for improvement?

7. Management of derailment risks. Do you know what personal failure looks like? What are you doing to keep yourself on the leadership track? How are you keeping up to date and continuing to be well-respected?

The good news is that you can develop all of these qualities. You don't need your manager's permission or company-sponsored training to begin upgrading your qualifications.

Now is not the time to be humble. Keep written documentation of your successes, and as you begin improving your skills in these areas, document them. Add these successes to your résumé and LinkedIn profile, and share them with your manager. In fact, schedule regular conversations with your manager to lay out your successes, goals and expectations. The meetings give you a chance to highlight your achievements while also giving a reality check on your goals.

If your current employer doesn't tap you for a promotion, the hard work you've invested will pave the way for a stronger résumé that highlights many of the leadership qualities valuable to another company. You can go pitch yourself to one that will value what you bring to the table or has room for you to grow.

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Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She co-authored "Social Networking for Business Success," and has developed and delivered programs to help job seekers understand how to look for work better.
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