Develop a Leadership Mindset to Get Noticed and Move Up

Leading the “Coaching to Develop a Leadership Mindset” course for the IABC Academy for the past three years, I’ve heard firsthand from many communicators about the challenges they face in the workplace and on the path to leadership.

Here are some of the most common concerns and requests:

  • How to develop confidence, emotional intelligence and a leader-centric mindset
  • How to become less “reactive” and able to communicate a position and proposed solutions without “shutting down”
  • Tips and tools to handle difficult conversations and manage conflict
  • Coaching/mentoring tips for team growth and development
  • How to get more responsibility, more rewarding projects and more joy.

I believe that communicators are by nature ideally positioned for leadership positions. What follows are five of my best tried-and-true tips to develop a leadership mindset, get noticed and move up.

Leading is also about following

A leader is someone who others follow willingly. People want to be in a relationship with you. It is not dependent on power or position.

A great question for aspiring leaders to ask is “Why do others willingly follow me?” Look within yourself for the answer. You may want to ask others as well to see what they say.

Herein lies clues to your strength of character and the values you should uphold to naturally shine as a leader.

Often the responsibility of a leader is to get their people from where they are to where they haven’t been. This is a lot easier if people follow willingly.

Ask yourself: Why would others willingly follow me?

Leaders are relational

Effective leaders are adept at managing three relationships: relationship with self, relationship with others and relationship with the system(s) within which they live and operate.

Leadership scholar Warren Bennis famously said, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

The first step to develop a leadership mindset is self-awareness. It’s important to understand yourself before you can lead others. The best way to do this is to get a clear sense of your values.

Values are our most fulfilling form of expressing and relating and point us to what it means to be true to oneself. When we are living a life that is aligned with our values, there is a sense of fulfillment and a grounding rightness during tough times.

Personal values of discovery and clarity is a starting point in all my coaching relationships. Clients often ask if is OK to have different values at work than at home. The answer is no! Your values are the same for all areas of your life and serve as a compass for communication and decision making.

Ask yourself: How well do I know myself?

Leading is different than managing

To develop as a leader, it is important to understand the difference between managing and leading. It is surprising how many people don’t know the difference. I love that one of my clients laminated this chart and posted it in his office.

Leading versus managing

Manager Leader
Planning and budgeting Charts a course providing direction
Organizing and staffing Provides guidance and counsel
Follows orders People follow their example
Controlling and solves problems Motivates and inspires
Maintains control and order Creates an environment
Protects status quo Builds relationships and trust
Writes memos Trains and teaches
Follows rules and regulations Questions rules and regulations
Technical orientation Strategic orientation

Get a sense of your natural orientation on the “Leading Versus Managing” chart. Is it toward managing or leading? Of course, leading and managing responsibilities are not mutually exclusive, but you can see the difference.

To evolve and get noticed as a leader, make a conscious choice to embody and demonstrate a leader-like orientation every chance you get. You will be building your leadership muscle and others will notice.

Ask yourself: Am I managing or leading?

Learn to really listen

Effective leaders are skilled at not only asking powerful, open-ended questions that start with “what” and “how,” but also actively listening to retain what has been shared and doing so in a way that makes others feel heard.

A fun way to practice active listening is to ask an open-ended question and listen intently to what the person says. Then make a conscious choice to ask an open-ended follow-up question based on their reply and then one more based on that reply. Only at this point turn the conversation back to you. Often at this point, the conversational naturally turns anyways.

Did you notice a natural inclination to turn the conversation back to you? This is very common and requires self-awareness and discipline to change. Think of it is listening instead of reloading.

While being respected for your knowledge and expertise is important, as a leader it is just as important to be able to engage others through active listening. The easiest way to do this is by asking powerful questions. It has been helpful for some of my clients to think of the term WAIT, which stands for “Why am I talking?”

Ask yourself: Am I listening or reloading? 

Courageous authenticity builds confidence

Courageous authenticity is exemplified through a willingness to take a tough stand, to address the “undiscussables” or the elephant in the room and to openly deal with relationship problems.

Developing the capability to relate to others in an authentic, courageous and high-integrity manner can be uncomfortable at first. It is easier if it comes from a values-based, curious place.

Often clients are fearful to step out of their comfort zone and speak up, but once they try it and experience the impact (personally and from others), it becomes much easier and they even seek opportunities to practice this behavior.

You know those situations when no one is talking and everyone is wishes that someone would address the real issue. Using good judgment, of course, don’t be afraid to address what isn’t being said. When done in a tactful and thoughtful way, others will appreciate and notice you for leading the way.

Ask yourself: How can I practice courageous authenticity?

Leadership is a muscle that can be developed. While self-awareness is a powerful first step in leadership development, I encourage you to be open and receptive to feedback from others.

Is the way you see yourself consistent with the way others see you? The Leadership Circle Profile is a valued resource and a highly insightful self-assessment tool to determine your creative competencies versus your reactive tendencies.

In closing, here are two powerful questions for aspiring leaders. Would I follow me? And, how will I model the courage I want from those around me?

Written by Mary-Ellen Hynd for CW Magazine.


  1. Elise Mesedahl says:

    This article is pretty helpful. Nothing earth-shatteringly new in its advice, but very good to be reminded of what qualities people must have to rise to the top.