Updated: Apr 15
You want to progress in your leadership career. You’ve got an objective to reach Head of department level within a couple of years. How do you create a Leadership Career Development Plan to achieve your goal?
You’re successful in your Senior Manager role and want to achieve a Head of department role next. You know you’re capable of the move and can add more value than you are now. You enjoy being more strategic, having ideas, building relationships and making things happen. You’re excited to have this ambition! But how do you make it a reality?
Top 5 tips for how to successfully achieve promotion in your leadership career
Here are my top 5 tips, based on my experience of creating career development programmes in my HR career, and coaching individual leaders in their career progression.
Whether you’re looking for a new role within your current organisation or in another one, these will help you present your best self for your ideal role when the time is right.
1. Get feedback and input
This may feel scary (that F-word sends many people into panic!) and if so, you’ll need to harness your courage! Asking for advice / input to your development can feel like an easier, safer, way to position it.
First identify the people to ask – those who have insight into the role you aspire to and to you in your current role.
What do they see as your development areas and what recommendations do they have to help you cover them?
What they see you doing really well? How can you do more of this?
This helps you gain a clear picture of where you are now and what the gap is to reach your aspiration.
Also ask what helped them in their own leadership career development? What do they wish they’d done differently? What do they wish they’d had to help them?
2. Get the experiences and knowledge you need
The move to middle- or senior management usually needs a step up in understanding the business from a strategic perspective, plus potentially increasing your leadership skills. Some things to think about:
How well do you understand the business strategy, and how it enables the business to meet its purpose?
How does the business strategy feeds into the Finance, Customer, People, Marketing, Product, etc strategy?
How does the business make money?
How does it measure success?
Who are the key external stakeholders, what do they expect and how does this influence what the organisation does? (For example, shareholders and regulatory bodies.)
How do the different business functions contribute to the strategy? How do they collaborate to enable goals to be achieved?
Is there ‘language’ you need to be familiar with? This may be financial, business, or cultural.
What customer feedback / input / data is collected and how is it used?
How are new products or services developed?
What leadership development is available within the organisation?
What are the organisation’s leadership behaviours, competencies and values?
There’s nothing as valuable for development as learning through experience. So what can you do? Work on a project? Lead a project? Complete a secondment? Do a job-swap? Be creative with your thinking – what’s going to stretch you, move out of your current comfort zone? What does your new comfort zone need to look (and feel) like?
3. Develop your network; find yourself a mentor / sponsor
One thing’s for sure – you can’t develop your leadership career on your own. You need the support and input of your own leader, and of the team you want to join, at the very least. So think about who can help you, and how.
Creating a network map can help you – similar to a stakeholder map used in project management, this is about stakeholders in you, and your leadership career. Think about current and desired stakeholders – where do they sit on a Power and Interest grid? Who do you need to move and how can you do that?
Then start to build and improve your relationships with these key people. What do you want them to know about you (your aspirations and your strengths, for starters)? What can you learn from them? What value can you bring them?
A mentor or two will be invaluable, maybe someone internal and someone external. The internal mentor will be someone in a senior position who can:
Guide you through your career development journey, acting as a sounding board and helping you navigate the complexities of the organisation.
Help you understand the dynamics and politics of the leadership of the organisation
Introduce you to people who can help with your development, and champion you for roles.
An external mentor can provide a safe space to talk through ideas and challenges, and can bring a different perspective because they’re not involved in the organisation. You might like to find someone from within your industry (being mindful of confidentiality) or someone completely removed like a professional career mentor. Both will have pros and cons.
As you develop your network, you’ll find people who become your natural allies and supporters. Those people who believe you’ll be a great addition to the leadership team. How can they help you?
4. Demonstrate strategic thinking; add value to the business
As you build your understanding of the business – the strategy and goals, how it makes money, how if functions – take note of problems and opportunities you identify.
How can the problems be solved?
How can the opportunities be realised?
Use your network to explore your ideas and identify ideas and proposals you can put to the leadership team. Link everything to the business purpose, strategy and goals. Quantify and qualify the potential benefits to the organisation.
5. Establish your credibility, influence and authority as a leader
Know the organisation’s leadership behaviours, competencies and values, and demonstrate them in everything you do. Be a great role model. Develop and enable others.
Understand your own leadership style, strengths (read my blog How to thrive in your career by harnessing your strengths) and values (read my blog Leading with Values).
Work on your Emotional Intelligence if appropriate. Understand how you are when things are going well and how you are under stress. What’s the difference and how can you close the gap? What strengths will help you?
Be honest about any mistakes you make along the way. Development is about learning, and learning often involves making mistakes. Be accountable, be clear about what you’ve learned and what you’ll do differently next time. Honesty builds trust, and trust is essential in any team.
Tell people what you’re going to do – do it – and tell them you’ve done it!
And really important: Be authentically you at all times. People trust people they understand and who are consistent.
Create a Leadership Career Development Plan
You’ll probably find it helpful to create yourself a leadership career development plan, so you can realistically map out what you’re going to do, when, how and who can help you. Including SMART goals will keep you on track, and a Learning & Reflection journal will help you see your progress – this will be useful for conversations with your manager and mentor/s too.
If you’d like help to create your leadership career development plan, and / or a professional career mentor to support you in your development, get in touch to talk through how I can help you.
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About Karen Felton
Karen is a Leadership Career Change Success coach, enabling leaders in HR and Financial Services to make the change they dream of in their career.
She has over 25 years’ experience leading teams, coaching and mentoring people, developing leaders and enabling people to achieve their career goals. She is passionate about enabling people to be their best selves so they can perform at their best in work and in life.