Many leaders want to make sure they are positioning themselves for an exciting future role. While it is naïve to expect a promotion every year, you can prepare yourself for leadership positions via continuous self-learning.
There's no need to have a formal sit-down with your manager. Instead, here are three steps you as an individual can take right now to move forward.
1. Use data as a mirror.
Many leaders work in a vacuum, not knowing how they are doing. You may have the data, but it takes time to analyze your strengths, gaps, and de-railers. To get a handle on your performance, first focus on your most recent 360 review. Engage in honest self-examination: in what areas are you excelling? What areas present growth opportunities?
Then gather other sources of data, such as reviews and emails about your performance. It doesn't matter if some of the data is old. Even if the information is a bit dated, there are still relevant data points to consider. Ask the questions,"Is this data still relevant? Am I acting in the same manner?"
One client I worked with decided to go back to a mentor and have a conversation about his skills. He was known as someone who could plow through a heavy workload; yet after that conversation, he realized he needed to take a step back from execution and think more about thought leadership. My client chose to focus a small bit of his time to dig in and become an expert on a specific area of thought leadership.
This research helped my client in two specific, measurable ways. First, he developed a new process by which the company could pitch to clients, which resulted in more business. Second, he advanced himself by working toward the next level of leadership.
2. Set aside time to have interesting conversations.
To be a lifelong learner, you must have conversations with individuals you find interesting. This is not about career advancement, or scouting for your next opportunity: it is simply about meeting and speaking with interesting people. This is an excellent use of your "water cooler" time in the office. Of course, it's just as important to share what you are learning and doing, as well.
A client I worked with created a plan where she used LinkedIn to reconnect with past colleagues. She didn't have much excess time, so she only focused on two previous companies. This client wanted to get data about her strengths, but also to hear how people with similar career trajectories were doing. My client gained in two ways: she learned more about herself and experienced joy and warmth by reconnecting with folks.
3. Catalog your interactions.
Lastly, track your interactions and learnings. This step is critical. You can keep a folder on your laptop or find a great journal. When I suggest this to leaders, many scoff at me and don't understand the value in it. But with the busy pace of each day, too much happens. If you don't write things down, you forget-- and lose opportunities to glean meaning and value.
One former client used his log to keep track of how he interacted with his teams. This client frequently had outbursts that damaged team morale--yet he didn't realize what had happened until it was too late. By logging his interactions, he was able to see what triggered him to lose his cool. Seeing the data clearly helped him acknowledge and ultimately refine his interactions, which gave him more confidence.
Remember: promotions don't happen immediately--but learning can. By using these three actions, you position yourself as a continuous learner and make yourself available for new opportunities.