How to Grow as a Leader and Move up the Ladder

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 5 Levels of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Stuck at a leadership plateau? What can you do to ensure you continue to develop and grow as a leader?

Unless you strive to reach the next level of leadership, you are merely a boss, not a leader. If you want to grow as a leader, stop pulling your rank and focus on developing real influence.

If you want to continue to grow as a leader, keep the following in mind.

How Do You Grow as a Leader?

If you want to grow as a leader, there are three things you can do to set yourself up for the next level:

1) Change Your Mindset and Stop Pulling Rank

Some signs that you’re flexing your position instead of using your skills to get things done: You make it clear that you’re above everyone else, keep your distance from your people, and believe that they’re there to serve you. It’s easy to fall into the “because I said so” style of leadership, but this can get really old, really fast—no one likes being bossed around. Instead, start focusing on people instead of power, and use words of encouragement instead of intimidation. 

  • Example: Linda Sasser, CEO of Impacting Leaders, has a method for tapping into potential leaders’ skills: She lets them lead before they’re formally given a leadership role. Leading without a title to back them up challenges potential leaders to think of other ways to foster cooperation and teamwork. Instead of telling others what to do, potential leaders ask how they can help their teammates and form relationships with them. This people-oriented approach not only gets the job done but also increases potential leaders’ influence—so much so that their teammates are usually thrilled for them when they officially get promoted.  

2) Come Down From the Top of the Hill

While high-profile leaders smugly enjoy their king- or queen-of-the-hill status, you’ll need to leave your lofty spot if you wish to grow as a leader. True growth can only happen when you venture out of your comfort zone and meet your people where they are.

3) Keep Moving Towards a Vision

You might think you’ve made it once you’re given a leadership position, but don’t get caught up in the trappings of a title. Having a sense of entitlement and becoming too comfortable where you are means you take for granted where you—and your team—could go. The privileges and perks that you get from your title are nothing compared to the positive changes you can effect at higher levels of leadership.

Your Growth To-Do List

Here are some actionable steps:

  1. Commit to growth. You’ll go farther if you commit to becoming a better leader. Make a contract with yourself, writing down how you intend to improve. Go back to it in the future to track your progress. 
  2. Decide what kind of leader you want to be. You’ll build integrity and credibility by behaving consistently. It pays to define your brand of leadership so that you have something to guide you, especially when you have to make difficult decisions. Reflect on the three questions :
  • Who am I?
  • What values are important to me?
  • What habits and systems do I want to practice?
  1. Rethink your goals. If you think of career goals in terms of positions to strive for, shift your focus and start thinking about what you can do, such as the impact you want to make and the effect you want to have on your team.   
  2. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Consider the organization’s vision, then re-align your own and your team’s goals with that vision. This shifts your focus from personal gain to the common good.
  3. Get in touch with your people. Remember that your people are your biggest asset. An organization is only as good as its people, so every member of your team is valuable. Start treating them that way by coming down from your lofty position. Get to know each one and find out what makes them tick.
  4. Stop leveraging your title. If you have to say you’re the boss, then you’re not really the boss. Your actions speak louder than your position, so avoid throwing your weight around and instead focus on doing good work.
  5. Don’t be afraid to show weakness. Good leaders can admit when they don’t know something and are open to working with other people to find solutions. Whenever you don’t have the answer to a question, say so. Then work with your team to find it.
  6. Find a mentor. It can be hard to feel your way around a new role so it helps to seek guidance from someone who’s been through what you’re going through. Ask a leader you admire to coach you. Set up regular meetings and make sure to come with questions or issues that you’re dealing with—never come unprepared.
How to Grow as a Leader and Move up the Ladder

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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