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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Ways You Can Position Yourself as a Leader (Before You Have Any Followers)


There’s never been a better time to develop your leadership skills. According to Deloitte’s 2014 Millennial Survey, Millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

Think about that statistic for a moment, because the implications are huge: Within 10 years, Baby Boomers will have all but completed the handoff of leadership responsibilities to members of Generations X and Y. If you’re interested in moving into management, now is the ideal time to raise your hand and take the lead.

Why now?

In anticipation of this global demographic shift, many companies are developing high-potential programs to accelerate the development of their up-and-coming leaders. Deloitte, for example, has a program called NextGen, which aims to cultivate future leaders.

I turned to Monica O’Reilly, a principal at Deloitte & Touche LLP and Chief Talent Officer for the firm’s advisory practice, to learn more about NextGen and who makes a great candidate for the program.

O’Reilly, who is a NextGen graduate herself, explains five ways to stand out and be recognized as high-potential. Even if your company doesn’t have a program like NextGen, incorporating these tips into your work life will demonstrate your abilities to the people who can take your career to the next level.

1. Deliver Superior Performance

Don’t just meet expectations; exceed them. Every time. Being recognized as someone who possesses high potential starts with superior performance.

“The people selected for the program demonstrate a desire to move into top leadership roles, an interest in broadening their perspective across the business, and a strong commitment to developing themselves and others,” O’Reilly says. “But in addition to that, they usually have a strong track record of performance over several years. We choose those who demonstrate higher performance in serving clients and taking care of people.”

2. Cultivate a Followership

Do you have the ability to inspire others to collaborate and take action? If so, you have—or are building—a followership. According to O’Reilly, if you want to be recognized for your future leadership potential, you should be able to cultivate a followership before you get there.

“People will follow a talented leader,” she asserts. “They want to be inspired and motivated.” So learn what makes people tick as well as what qualities they respect (here are a few ideas), then begin to cultivate those traits.

3. Be Boldly Self-Aware

Do you know your workplace brand? In other words, are you aware of the unique impact you make in your office and how others perceive you? If you want a management position in your future, you should.

That’s because emerging leaders must possess strong self-awareness. “Understand your strengths and where you can make an impact,” says O’Reilly. “And then, be brave enough to make that impact.”

If you haven’t yet uncovered your brand or your strengths, try taking a 360-degree feedback survey or asking a trusted manager, mentor, or colleague to describe how he or she thinks you’re perceived by others. Listen for positive traits that are referenced more than once, and then aggressively seek out opportunities to apply those strengths.

4. Think Strategically

To thrive in an accelerated leadership program like NextGen, says O’Reilly, you must strive to think broadly and more strategically. “Question how things could be done better and how to add value to the organization, no matter what role you are in,” she recommends.

For example, let’s say you notice a number of customers with similar complaints about your team’s product. Instead of reacting to each problem as it arises, try to determine the root cause or look for ways that your team might be better able to anticipate customers’ needs.

5. Attract Mentors

One valuable element of a high-potential program is the opportunity to learn and network with others in your cohort. You’ll develop an amazing network of impressive peers who will one day become your network of powerful business leaders.

But don’t wait for the program to start to develop that group of contacts—start establishing relationships with leaders who can mentor and guide you now. When you meet a person you admire, ask if he or she would be open to having a 20-minute informational meeting with you to answer some career-related questions. If it goes well, ask if he or she would be willing to meet on a regular basis. If you get a yes—you’ve got a new mentor.

When you do get the opportunity to take on a leadership role or enter a leadership development program, make the most of it. “If you’re selected for any leadership program, embrace the experience.” O’Reilly recommends. “Don’t be passive about it. Immerse yourself completely, so you can develop as a future leader.”