In 2019 we added a video companion to this article:
How many times have you applied for a leadership role only to be rejected due to lack of leadership experience? There’s nothing more frustrating than when you’re kicking butt in your job, you love it and know that you’ll be an amazing manager once you get that promotion, you can’t wait to get others as excited about the role as you are, but you can’t seem to get the go-ahead from management. You keep applying every year, and keep getting told “We went with someone with more leadership experience”. But how are you supposed to get leadership experience if they won’t let you get the experience?
It is easy to get stuck in that frustration and be unable to see your next step. We’re here to help you find your next move. The first thing is to realize that anyone can be an informal leader, so start showing your boss (and his/her boss) that you’re already a leader in the department, the company, the industry and the community. No one needs to give you permission, just do it! The secret is to not only be a leader on your day to day but specifically search out leadership opportunities that you can list on a resume and discuss in an interview.
1. Associate Resource Groups:
Most larger companies have employee groups for people from similar backgrounds or with similar interests, find one you think is interesting and join it, then work hard to find a project you can lead and let the the group’s leadership know right away that you want to contribute and help lead the group. If you can’t find any group that sounds interesting start your own, maybe a Young Professionals Group or a Wellness Group, whatever you think would be fun.
Volunteer at a local non-profit and make it clear you’re looking for leadership experience, choose one that deals with an issue you’re passionate about because otherwise your lack of interest will show.
3. Volunteer at work to do something no one else wants to do:
Tell your manager you’d like to help him with whatever you can, you want to help take some stuff off of his plate, whatever it might be. Most managers hate the lack of initiative their people display and they’re so busy they’ll be more than happy to unload some of their least favorite work your way, then do it to the best of your abilities. Become your manager’s right hand and you’ll get promoted before you know it.
4. Join your local CPCU Society and volunteer for leadership:
Join the CPCU Society (you have your CPCU right?), Emerging Insurance Professionals or whatever other professional group deals with your industry if you’re crazy enough not to work in insurance 😛 .
5. Join Toastmasters:
Every decently sized city has a few Toastmasters Groups and most large businesses have one or more right on campus. Join the group and become active. Make sure to let them know you volunteer to help however you can. Tony had especially good luck becoming the VP of Membership at 1100 Toastmasters in Nationwide’s Des Moines, Iowa office.
6. Do not be afraid of taking risks:
If you play it safe you’ll be stuck in your cube forever, take some calculated risks, and you’ll very likely show your innate leadership skills. Even if your immediate manager doesn’t like it, as long as it’s positive, chances are managers higher up in the organization will like it. Read Mavericks at Work and go for it! If the company punishes you for it, chances are you’re in the wrong company anyway. The economy is getting much better as we write this in 2014, and jobs are (finally) more available. This is the time to take a risk.
7. Start a Charity Project:
You can always do suggestion #3 on steroids, and start your own charity project. We recommend focusing on a small project such as collecting food for disaster relief for a nearby disaster or collecting clothing for a local homeless shelter, rather than a monstrous undertaking like trying to solve world hunger.
8. Mentor the Interns:
If you’re at the point where you’re looking for a manager role, you’ve probably been around for at least 18 months, so you know your way around, volunteer to mentor the new guys, especially interns, and help them fall in love with the company and the industry. This tip worked wonders for Tony, who volunteered to represent the Nationwide Gen Y Associate Resource Group in a session for the interns and ended up finding himself being the only person there to speak to the group. He got them for 2 hours and helped at least a few of them fall in love with the industry.
When you’re leading these projects, make an effort to monitor the impact that you’re having on the larger group. For instance, if you’re the New Designee Committee Chair for the CPCU Society, track the number of new members you sign during your time as chair, keep a list of the tactics you use to attract new members, and be sure that you’re ready to discuss these successes when you get the next interview and include them on your updated resume.
If you look for opportunities and start saying yes when you’re asked to commit some time outside of your normal work day, you’ll find that you will be able to pick those that are suitable to your strengths and that will showcase your passions. And remember, these commitments will reflect on you, so be certain to pick the ones that you will follow through on.
There you go, now you know the secret, go forth, and make yourself into management material!
Acknowledgement: Ideas 7 and 8 blatantly stolen from this article.