When you think of people at the top of their careers, you often envision inspiring leaders who shape their industries. But what actually gets someone from an entry-level career to a leadership position?
Being a leader is so much more than knowing how to be a manager. In fact, leadership careers differ from management careers in several important ways.
Read on to discover exactly how leadership roles work, and discover 5 career paths that could pave your route to leadership
Managers ensure that the day-to-day operations of a business always run smoothly. They help companies establish (and exceed) expectations, all while ensuring profit margins are met and customers are happy.
Leaders, on the other hand, are there to inspire and motivate. They are the big-picture visionaries whose mix of business acumen, empathy, and communication skills make them the most inspiring and influential people in their fields.
If you’re a natural-born leader, then you likely have your eyes set on a job that lets you do what you do best. You know how to work well with others, how to recognise and nurture their strengths, and how to turn possibilities into opportunities.
The phrase “born leader” gives the unfair impression that leadership is a skill people have innately. But this just isn’t true. A wide array of traits and skills make up a good leader, and very few people have all of them naturally. But many can be developed and learned.
This false perception isn’t helped by unhelpful stereotypes of what good leadership looks like. For example, we often think of leaders as extroverted or uncompromising. Both are innaccurate.
But some of the best leaders aren’t “born” leaders. Good leaders are many other things – thoughtful, great listeners with emotional intelligence and an open mind.
Here are five career paths you might consider if being a leader speaks to you.
You can’t get freer in the workplace than being your own boss. An interest in leadership and an interest in entrepreneurship often go hand-in-hand. And – of course – this often gives you a direct route to a position as a CEO depending on the kind of business you start.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean jumping straight into creating the next TikTok. Key business skills for leadership can be built up through small ventures, like being a freelance designer or running a craft shop online.
Aspiring entrepreneurs need to be willing – excited, even – to learn a wide range of generalist skills. We’re talking everything from financial planning to digital marketing. A commitment to active learning is at the heart of entrepreneurship success.
Projects come in all shapes and sizes, from planning a wedding to developing a mobile app. In business, there is always a need for skilled project managers who know how to make ideas come to life with all the practical deadlines and limitations of modern work.
Project managers can work in virtually any field, but they must be masters at a methodology that helps them effectively reach their clients’ goals. Project managers oversee teams of people from various professional backgrounds, and help their companies create the best possible products for their customers.
While product managers don’t necessarily directly manage a team, product management is a great position for learning important skills and business knowledge that great managers and leaders need. Project management requires practical organizational skills, the ability to keep many people with various agendas pointing in the same direction, resolving conflict and a range of other useful skills.
Essentially, product management is about ensuring your company creates the best possible product in the best possible way. It’s all about placing the customer at the heart of everything to deliver something that delights them (while delighting company owners, too!)
Product management roles involve overseeing activity (such as design and development), making strategic decisions, spotting and resolving problems and – ultimately – making products customers love. The job requires you not only to bring different people (with different opinions and priorities) together, but to spot opportunities and lead problem-solving. For this reason, aspiring leaders can learn plenty in product management.
It’s all about making sure everybody is pointing in the same direction, moving towards the same goal – and making sure that goal aligns with everybody’s needs.
Start-up entry-level jobs can be a strategic choice for aspiring leaders – though there are no guarantees. Start-ups hire candidates who they feel have the potential to grow with the company. Someone who starts off as a marketer may go on to run an entire marketing division one day. Likewise, the once solo accountant could go on to become the company’s chief financial officer.
There are many opportunities to grow in startups, and they encourage self-motivated people looking for chances to prove just how capable they are. Explore start-ups in your favourite industries — just be prepared to bring your A game.
Start-ups allow you to step into a role and develop personally and professionally. It can also be extremely rewarding to see your hard work pay off as the company scales its operations.
We’ve written an in-depth guide to finding your way in leadership and management.
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