How to Work Your Way to Leadership

“Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.” ~ Goethe

Take a moment to think about every job you’ve had in your career. Think of every boss or line manager. Think of every colleague. Think of every client, even. Some people would probably stick out in your memory for all the bad reasons. Forget about those. Focus instead on the ones whose memory draws a smile on your face, and makes you want to pick up the phone and check up on them. I’m willing to bet that you see these people… as mentors.

Mentors are more than knowledge transmitters. They’re listeners, willing to hear out your grievances and better understand your vantage point. They’re counselors, sharing their past experiences and mistakes in the hope that you benefit from them. They’re even soccer moms – confident in your abilities, rooting for your success, and sincerely wishing you the best.

One of my earliest mentors was a senior client servicing director in an advertising agency. Our cross-generational affinity was both professionally efficient and rewarding on a human level. I remember catching up with him after having left the agency. Where we met and what we talked about is difficult to recall, but I remember to this day a sentence of his that resonates with me in each one of my professional interactions: “you’re only as good as your last phone call.”

That’s the first building block to paving your way to leadership: always focus on delivering high quality in everything that you do. Quality work is a reflection of a thoughtful and hardworking professional. So, compare a sloppy presenter with poorly designed slides and a monotonous voice, with a confident performer with engaging visuals and a sense of theatrics? I’d subconsciously gravitate towards admiring and potentially following, the latter.

A second essential building block on the road to leadership is patience. It takes time to become an expert at something and attain a level of mastery worth emulating. It also takes time for your initial commitment to mastery to pick up steam. So you’ve set your mind on becoming a better speaker, but are still suffering from intense stage fright? Not to worry: keep practicing diligently, seek professional advice, and your speech anxiety will be a thing of the past in no time.

But what you shouldn’t compromise on, in terms of time for you to become a leader – is pride. This is not a call to have pride in a derogatory sense, as in an excessively high opinion of oneself, but rather to have it as the feeling of satisfaction one derives from one’s achievements. Be proud of the fact that you’re sharing your story with a listening crowd. Be proud that you stood up there despite of your fears. Be proud and convinced that your story has the ability to change someone’s life for the better. That’s how you become, in their eyes, a leader.

Quality, patience and pride – a leadership tripod fit for public speaking, and everything else.

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