There is a ladder, if you will, that you must climb to be qualified and recognized to take on more responsibility (in exchange for more authority, more compensation, and more influence that may come along). There are many rungs to the ladder, but today I want to talk about the first four and how you can give yourself a promotion and grow as a leader. In short, you should be secure on each rung before you could expect to climb to the next. Together, you can give yourself a promotion in four easy steps. Let’s begin.
Rung 1: You can manage your time
Most individual contributors (that is, people who are not managers, but responsible for their own work) have one main resource that they alone can allocate: their time. We all have the same 24 hours a day and how people choose to allocate those hours makes a huge difference in their results. A lot of experts have written tomes on this subject (some of my favorites are Getting Things Done, the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the provocative 4 Hour Work Week, and the insightful Better Than Before), mobile apps have been written to help track and monitor time allocation, and there is no shortage of life hack websites that will walk you through best practices for time management. But if you can not manage your own time and get work done in a reasonable timeframe with reasonable effort, no one will consider you ready for more. If you don’t know how you spend your time or feel like you are chronically under-estimating the amount of time things will take, missing deadlines, or letting down your team mates, this is a place to start. To be a manager, you must first manage yourself.
Rung 2: You can optimize your potential
Once you have mastery over your deadlines and tasks, you can build upon that to make the most of your capabilities and interests. You start with an understanding of your style, approach, and thinking processes (using tools like Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinders, Kolbe, and others that I have blogged about in the past). You get feedback from worthy mentors. You seek out professional development opportunities. You strive to get better and to outgrow your current assignment. You broaden your perspective beyond how you spend time today to apply yourself in new ways to new problems. You know what you need to inspire and drive you and you make sure your environment is right (which is described in detail in the book Triggers). You never stop managing your time and you never stop growing, of course, but you have reached this rung of the ladder when you have a vision of your best self and understand yourself well enough to play from your strengths and propel yourself to new heights of performance. If you want to be a leader, you must first lead yourself.
Rung 3: You can manage other people’s time
The first supervisory job that most people have involves managing other people’s time. You make sure people show up for their shift. You make sure the phones get answered as expected and the call queues are not too long. You make certain that there is adequate coverage to handle expected traffic at a trade show or retail environment. You sign time cards. You help them know what to do between punching in and punching out. You offer up work instructions and on-the-job training. In many cases, you can help others reach the first rung of their ladder by managing projects and allowing more capable people to manage their time towards the good of the project. This is where basic employee engagement comes into effect. Good managers have employees that have the time and resources to achieve the goals at hand.
Rung 4: You can unlock other people’s potential
This is the run where leaders emerge from among the sea of managers. Their employees not only want to use their time better, but they want to be better. Using both encouragement and discipline, they realize that honestly, delivered respectfully, is a gift and can help high potential individuals achieve more than they thought possible. Identifying latent talents. Probing for unrealized motivations. Describing hidden possibilities and bringing those to light. Establishing new standards and enabling people to do more than what is required so that they can feel pride in their work. Helping individuals bloom, where they are planted and to find new landscapes to explore.
These first four rungs on the ladder illustrate a great truth about getting recognized and promoted: most things are within your control.
Whether or not you want to be a manager of people (that is not everyone’s ambition), these same principles apply. As I have said before, you don’t have to wait for someone’s permission to get the experience you want and need to further your career in whatever direction you wish to direct it. You, alone, can effectively manage your time for maximum results. You alone can be curious about your own potential. And without a job change or a fancy title, you can help others do the same. From whatever role you are in today. It won’t be long before you are ready for the next challenge and that will be recognized by others. You’ll be doing a bigger job already when the opportunities come your way.