The days of the "command and control boss" are past, and the model emerging to take its place is all about shared leadership. In this new paradigm, everyone on the team should be empowered to contribute directly to strategic goals – which means everyone needs the guidance, support, and opportunity to become full-fledged strategists.
Of course, strategic leadership skills aren’t developed overnight. Rather, that kind of expertise is built over the long-term, progressing stage by stage with an accompanying increase in responsibilities. Those stages are:
- Apprentice, contributing to the team dependently, working on a portion of a larger project or task
- Expert, contributing independently, relying less on supervision, taking responsibility for projects, and building expertise, credibility, and strong internal relationships
- Manager, encompassing a broad business perspective, leading others, and building effective external relationships; and
- Advisor/Strategist, driving the direction of the organization, defining critical opportunities and needs, securing resources, and helping others through their own career evolution.
In greater detail, the work at each stage looks like this:
As an apprentice, you start out helping, learning, following directions, attending to details, and building skills. Advancing from stage to stage means reaching certain goals. In short, your path from apprentice to strategist is based on these achievements:
- Goals to take you from apprentice to expert: gaining technical competence, demonstrating initiative, showing focus, working well on a team, gaining and showing confidence.
- From expert to manager: broadening industry knowledge, leading teams, building industry contacts and interpersonal skills, balancing time management and detail orientation, and supervising direct reports.
- From manager to advisor/strategist: providing department direction, helping direct reports develop their own employees, broadening contacts in the community, capitalizing on group dynamics, and focusing teams on the organization and clients.
According to research, the best way to learn new skills and build on existing strengths is through the 70/20/10 method: 70 percent on-the-job experiences, 20 percent coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent formal training. (You can find a more in-depth explanation here.) Commit to a 70/20/10 professional development plan by pursuing “stretch” assignments that take you out of your comfort zone; making time to find a mentor in your organization or field, and meet with them regularly; and being intentional about training.
What is your path?
When you carefully assess your role in the organization, your leadership stage, and your goals – both in the short- and long-term – you’ll be in a position to chart a journey toward greater skills and impact. The trick is to be honest with yourself, without being too easy or too hard. One practice that can help you achieve that balance (with yourself and others) is a leadership skill called “radical candor,” as conceived by author Kim Scott.
The two main components of radical candor are “caring personally” and “challenging directly.” This chart provides a handy way to conceive of the concept, mapping out three danger zones and the radical candor “sweet spot,” located in the upper-right-hand corner:
Make a point to practice radical candor when looking at your own strengths and weaknesses, leadership skills, and career progress, and you’ll be in an excellent position to find the way forward. You’ll also have an extremely handy tool for communicating with teammates and leading them to advance their own abilities.
Express your evolution
As you advance your abilities, you can’t take it for granted that those in the position to hire or promote you are paying attention – you’ve got to make a case for your increasing value. For that, you need to be able to communicate the ways you’re helping, or will help, to meet the organization’s strategic goals.
Fortunately, the formula for that is simple: “I [action verb] [object] [benefit].” For example:
- I coach executives to be exhilarating leaders.
- I lead teams that consistently exceed revenue goals.
- I transform first-time donors into champions for the organization.
Be sure you have a story that can demonstrate each of these accomplishments, ideally including both a qualitative aspect (the impact made on a specific person or problem) and a quantitative aspect (a figure such as dollars raised or saved, attendance numbers, resources distributed, etc.).
Mary Bear Hughes is a senior consultant with GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group. This article was drawn from her presentation “Your Path to the Corner Office,” delivered in January to the 2019 “30 Under 30” cohort, an initiative of YNPN Atlanta and GCN.