Put Yourself on the Fast Track

Put Yourself on the Fast TrackPosted by Neil Neveras on June 14, 2012

Our Human Capital Trends 2012 report discusses broadly what HR organizations are doing and experiencing in the quest for growth and higher efficiency. But individual employees can also glean focused takeaways from many of the trends to apply to themselves and their careers. That’s certainly the case in Fast-track to the Top, which discusses organizations’ need to identify and develop high-potential leaders. If you’re a leader who wants to move faster and go farther, you can take steps to own and accelerate your development.

First, create an individual development plan. Take the performance feedback you get—and even ask for more feedback from those around you—to focus on your development needs. Be honest with yourself: Self-reflection is very important and so is acknowledging that the strengths that got you where you are may not be the ones to get you to the next level. Research what’s typical and required of someone several levels beyond yours and craft your development plan to fill in the gaps. For example, a necessary leadership trait is the ability to manage and balance multiple priorities at once and leverage other people to get things done. How can you get better in that? In order to delegate more, do you first have to develop your people so they can take on more responsibility? Do you have to work on engaging others to want to go the extra mile for you? Do you need to take on more projects to practice the art of juggling?

Second, build your network. You don’t get opportunities to stretch and grow unless you know people who are going to take a chance on you. As you build relationships, two things are key: (1) People have to like you, not as a best friend, but as someone they have something in common with and feel a kinship toward. (2) You have to be able to deliver some business value to them. In large organizations especially, people remember how you helped them or did something extra that helped them achieve their goals, whether organizationally or personally. Think about these as you build your network. How do you build an affinity with people who may be different from you and how can you deliver value to them? If you can do those things, those in your network will naturally take an interest in you and look for ways to give you opportunities to stretch and grow.

Third, take the risk. A new position overseas. The hot-potato project no one wants. Taking a stretch assignment when the opportunity arises is key, even if it means you might be in a new situation or role where you make some mistakes. The most important thing is that you learn from the experience—remember that the organization is investing in your learning in order to gain value from your knowledge and experience down the road. It’s important that you respond in a way that doesn’t seem defensive and demonstrates that you learned the lesson and understand what you could have done better. The organization wants to know that even though its investment in you may not have paid off immediately, it will pay off.

Fourth—and only if you do the first three—be a lifelong learner. In my experience, this element of leadership development gets more attention than it should, since it doesn’t accelerate development on its own; it’s only helpful if you’re doing the first three things we discussed. So, as you are working on your individual development plan, building your network and taking on stretch assignments, certainly learn everything you can about different parts of the business, what it takes to improve different aspects of leadership, what’s happening in the macroeconomic environment, what’s going on geopolitically and culturally—all the things that help make you aware of what you can do to accelerate your development and understand the context in which you’re operating.

Fast-track to the Top offers more information about what makes a good leader and the personal attributes of people who have the greatest potential to develop leadership capabilities faster than others. The good news for all of us looking to excel and climb higher in our careers is that organizations are eager to help us do that. It’s a trend that benefits both people and the organizations that rely on them.

Neil Nveras Neil Neveras leads Deloitte’s client-facing Leadership services in the US and co-leads these services globally. He works with clients to help them solve their most complex leadership challenges and on broader challenges related to talent and work.

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