Whenever I meet with or talk to a successful leader, I am always reminded of the phrase “leadership starts with you.” And recently as I was browsing the All Things Workplace blog, I was reminded again. Steve Roesler says:

Without a clear sense of what a successful life means to you, then everyone else can control your time, your choices, and your career. You have no firm basis on which to make decisions.

One of the most important functions of the leader is to make decisions and act upon them. This means having a firm personal and professional foundation from which to function. I have explained this previously as “keeping your eyes on the prize”. But leadership success also stems from a single, personal acknowledgement:

No-one will support your career the way that you do.

I point this out not to be obvious, but to make an important point. Your leadership aspirations will only come to fruition if you acknowledge, own and act upon them. No one will do this for you – not a partner nor parent, not a boss nor mentor. For while these people may have a personal interest in your success, activating that personal interest is the first step that you must make on a much longer journey.

There are three key steps that you can take to activate your own personal leadership:

  • Identify a quantifiable step-up: Many people aim for the very top of an organization. While this is an admirable ambition, leadership extends far beyond a singular role. Aspiring leaders need to identify not JUST the goal (ie to be CEO) but a reachable, tangible step-up. For example, if you are a senior manager, what does it take to reach the next rung in the corporate ladder? What do you need to achieve (or over-achieve) to move into a director or vice president role?
  • Commit yourself to a timeframe: Once you know where you’d like to step your career to, identify a timeframe in which to make it happen. This is where your political know-how comes into play. Think about the regular rhythms of your organization – when do reviews take place? What about promotions? Is it the beginning of the new year? Is it quarterly? Remember that promotions are hotly contested – so be sure to work with your organization, provide stakeholders with plenty of time and opportunity to understand your goals and approaches more intimately.
  • Back yourself: If not you, then who? Whenever we put our faith in a new person, we expend a small amount of social capital. But what if that outlay of social capital was an investment in yourself, your ideas, passions and capabilities? There is no better investment than an investment in yourself – and others who are likely to support you will only do so if you have the self confidence and prepossession that encourages others to also make that investment. You must learn to back yourself.

people believing they're unobserved zen Sutherland via Compfight