Executive Development Programs
3 Questions for Aspiring Leaders to Ask Themselves

 By Dan McCarthy, Director of Executive Development Programs

In our Executive Leadership Development programs , we get to meet a lot of talented and aspiring leaders. Some of them come to our programs on their own, and many are selected by their organizations to attend because they are seen as having leadership potential. Most of them are aware that they'll need to learn new skills and behaviors in order to succeed in a leadership role. Some of them realize they need to take a hard look at their true motivations. However, not many realize that they need to be prepared, that being a leader can change who they are as people.

If you are considering a leadership role, there are three questions you'll want to ask yourself, and perhaps even discuss with your own manager, a trusted peer, or a coach:

1. "Why do I want to be a leader?"

People often want to be leaders because they want to:

- tell people what to do, instead of being told what to do
- make more money
- solve all of those nagging problems and show everyone else the right way to do things
- move to a nice office or more prestigious surroundings
- become noticed
- prepare themselves to become the next CEO
  Some of these things may happen, and some are just plain myths about leadership.

  For example, new leaders often find out that:

- they now have more people telling them what to do than ever before
- they may make less money
- problems that looked like no-brainers are really way more complicated than they thought
- increased exposure can be a double-edged sword
- people don't always do what you tell them to do

However, becoming an effective leader often does provide a chance to:

- have a larger impact on the organization because of the larger size of your role
- help your employees develop new skills
- help your employees achieve their own career goals dreams

It's important to be honest with yourself about what your real motivations for being a leader and have a realistic understanding of what the role is and is not.
Don't take a leadership role for all the wrong reasons!

2. "Do I have what it takes to be successful?"

Once you're clear on your motivations, the next question is a harder one to answer - do you have what it takes to be a successful leader? That's a hard question to answer if you've never been in the role, so to some extent, there's some guess-work involved.

We know there are certain skills and attributes that can be demonstrated in a non-leader role, that if done well, are predictors of leadership success. For example, Development Dimensions International (DDI) has developed a set of criteria that they say will accurately predict leadership success, based on their own experience and research, and research by others.

According to DDI, the "right stuff" for future leadership success include:

1. Propensity to lead. They step up to leadership opportunities.
2. They bring out the best in others.
3. Authenticity. They have integrity, admit mistakes, and don't let their egos get in their way.
4. Receptivity to feedback. They seek out and welcome feedback.
5. Learning agility.
6. Adaptability. Adaptability reflects a person's skill at juggling competing demands and adjusting to new situations and people. A key here is maintaining an unswerving, "can do" attitude in the face of change.
7. Navigates ambiguity. This trait enables people to simplify complex issues and make decisions without having all the facts.
8. Conceptual thinking. Like great chess players and baseball managers, the best leaders always have the big picture in mind. Their ability to think two, three, or more moves ahead is what separates them from competitors.
9. Cultural fit.
10. Passion for results.

Try assessing yourself against this list of criteria. Better yet, ask your manager and others to assess you. If you're lacking in any key areas, that's OK - most of these things can be improved with awareness, practice, and feedback. Other leadership skills are learned and mastered once in the role and with experience.

3. "Do I choose to be a leader?"

New leaders often find that due to the nature of their role, they end up changing how they see themselves and how others see them. Some of these changes are of course very positive: they become more concerned about other's development and success, they listen more, become more inspirational and positive, and more strategic. Leaders are willing to make sacrifices, putting the needs or those they lead and their organizations before their own.
These are all skills that can be developed, and with practice and consistent application, become a permanent part of your behavior. They also involve making a choice - a choice to step up and be a leaders, not just act like one. In other words, you change who you are!

What often catches leaders by surprise is that sometimes they end up changing in other, less desirable ways. People around them may start seeing them as more aggressive, serious, demanding, impatient, or guarded. Sometimes the changes are so subtle and gradual we don't even realize we've changed. Or we tell ourselves "that's just how I have to be at work - it's not the real me". The reality is, if you're not careful, you can end up becoming a person you don't want to be.

Instead, start with a vision of who you want to be as a leader. What's the legacy you want to leave, on your organization and others? What kind of a leader do you want to be remembered as? Who are the leaders you admire the most? This list of characteristics become your own personal leadership vision statement that you'll use as a north star to make sure you're not straying from who you want to be. Then, be sure to get feedback from others on a regular basis in order to increase your level of self-awareness, paying attention to the perceptions that your behaviors are creating.

So do a little soul searching before you're offered that promotion. Taking the time to ask and answer these three questions will help ensure your success as a manager and leader.
Better yet, you will have an opportunity to answer each of these questions and more, and start developing the skills needed to be an effective leader in our Leadership Certificate Program.

 You'll learn about your motivations to lead, your leadership style, and get feedback from others in order to raise your self-awareness. You'll learn and apply the skills required to manage yourself, lead others, lead teams, and lead your organization.

  UNH Leadership Certificate Program

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