Quick Gord, what's the best way for me to become a leader? Should I get an MBA? Should I change companies? What courses should I take?
Obviously there are many different things you can do to develop your leadership potential and all of the options presented above are certainly doable if not necessarily desirable. My recommendation is likely a bit different.
I would start with WHY? What is it about developing your leadership talent that has you excited? If you use the word "should" in answering that question, you may want to think about it some more.
I often hear people say that they see a "leadership role" as the "next logical step" in their career progression. I personally don't think there is anything logical about becoming a leader and certainly there is no natural progression. It is a completely different role than anything you have done before. Seriously. Do you think knowing how to diaper a baby makes you a good parent?
Knowing why or what it is that is "calling to you" to step into your leadership potential is critical. Because it isn't a linear journey and there are often as many missteps as their are steps forward. Pushing through failures, sometimes shame and humiliation and fear requires a commitment beyond "entitlement". Just because you are really good at your current job is no reason to suspect that you will be a great leader. A tough message perhaps, but I am not one to sugar coat the truth.
I think a very logical step for anyone considering taking on a leadership role or committing themselves to developing their leadership talent is to learn a bit about it first. Who are leaders that you find inspirational? Read their biographies. Who are leaders that you currently think very highly of? Schedule an informational interview and learn about their trials and tribulations, aspirations and motivations. There are boxcars full of books on leadership, leadership development and business available. If you haven't read any of the ones currently available, that is also a good place to start.
Once you have a sense of your "why", then you can start looking in other directions to develop your exposure, experience and education. Here are some initial thoughts:
One of the most underutilised skills and development opportunities available is to become good at networking. If you don't have a good sense of how to approach it, you can start by checking out this page on networking basics. Networking not only gives you some exposure to potentially interesting people - it will also help you to develop the skill of engaging with people while growing your confidence in approach and connecting with strangers.
Another great place to start is to do some informational interviewing. An informational interview is not about looking for a job but rather about learning more of the leaders, the business and the industries that have inspired your "Why". The experience of asking another individual about their leadership perspectives and style will start to inform your own leadership belief systems. It is not that everything they say will be right for you but the conversation will open up the landscape for you in a way that can be quite profound. You can learn more about Informational Interviewing Here.
Another key place to start is to develop your knowledge and skills in the area of business etiquette. Again while understanding "society's rules" for social engagement will serve you well in many different areas of your life, from a leadership development perspective this is about understanding the "cultural norms" of business and organizational environments. The key to etiquette is knowing the "rules" well enough so that you feel comfortable and confident in the environment. Failing to feel comfortable or confident in the environment will cause you to be fearful of doing something wrong and with the implication that at that point you are focused on yourself - not the other people nor the proceedings. You can get a sense of some key elements of business etiquette here.
Without question, the most important thing for establishing a strong leadership foundation is to know who you are. This may sound silly but knowing who you are is a lifelong journey of experience, reflection and evaluation of those experiences to better understand who you are in the moment being presented. Consider that when you are grieving for example, a different part of you is exposed than when you are presenting or failing or have just won the biggest competition going.
I have found one of the most profound tools and models for understanding who we are was developed by Lynn Taylor of Taylor Protocols. His tool, the Core Values Index or CVI provides amazing insight as to how we are wired. You can take the free Core Values Index assessment by clicking this link: Take the CVI