Q: What are some areas I should focus on developing if I want to become a leader? I’m looking to apply for a role at my organization that would be a promotion, and I don’t have much management experience. How do I figure out what my “management style” is?
A: It’s terrific that you’re looking to develop your leadership skills and develop your managerial experience. Know that you can be a leader in your current role based on your behavior. Do you think you are? Are there leaders among your peers? Leaders can often occur without a title or promotion. If you are a in a junior role, managers and executives first want to see exceptional technical skills. Know every part of your job and be an expert. Then know how to help your manager and colleagues by supporting them.
As you look into moving toward management roles, you’ll want to pay attention to opportunities in your current responsibilities that give you the chance to develop some of these skills. Demonstrate great listening or communication skills, or the ability to influence other people or to express appreciation for your colleagues. These demonstrations of good leadership skills are a part of what gets you recognized by leadership, so these are things to pay attention to in your everyday work experience, particularly in your conversations and reviews with your manager.
In more senior roles (after becoming the technical expert), you will see that the soft skills grow in importance. This can include presentation skills, communication and listening skills, or delegation capabilities – and you’ll find there’s a greater move away from utilizing technical skills every day. While those skills may have made you an expert engineer, for example, they can become less and less important as you become more senior in the organization, and you need to get work done by supporting other technical experts instead. Both junior and senior people cannot overlook this important step in development.
There are many books and interviews with senior leaders who will describe the importance of empathy, confidence, integrity, self-awareness, and gratitude. You should read as much as you can and see what you can identify with, and practice something every day. Incorporate what you are learning. Podcasts offer great learning opportunities, too, and they vary by functional field.
It’s not so much about figuring out what your management style as it is choosing a management style that suits you. Some managers are command and control, but that’s a pretty dated management style and not what all the research shows is the best management style for organizational success, at most organizations. You may also need to change management styles based on the type of employees reporting to you, and their style.
What you can do is to look back at your past experience. When you see yourself taking charge, which skills or techniques do you see yourself using naturally, and how did people respond? What have you seen others do and what do you admire? What kind of leadership style do you thrive under and what makes you bristle? That will give you insight as well.