Ready, steady, leadership: how to prepare for the top job—from the get-go

‘It’s never too soon to start getting ready for your first leadership role’. While most of us would agree with the sentiment, few adopt this mindset, focusing instead on doing the best job we can do right now and looking at the immediate opportunities. This ‘knowing’ versus ‘action’ is mirrored at an organisational level—while 83% of employers recognise that it’s important to develop leaders at all levels of the career journey, only 5% act on that knowledge by implementing leadership training across the board [1].  

The leadership expert Peter Drucker defines a leader as follows: ‘Anyone who is responsible for actions and decisions that contribute to the performance capacity of his or her organisation’. As such, a senior position alone does not make a leader; it’s the enactment of leadership skills that earmarks people for the top jobs, and as such, we can all start to see ourselves as leaders-in-waiting as we work on our personal and professional growth.  

To focus on cultivating the qualities you’re going to rely on when you enter a leadership role—from active listening and negotiation- to strategic risk-taking and inclusive communication—is a direct investment in your future success. We asked everywomanAmbassadors—all senior women who’ve successfully made the leap from middle management to leadership—what they consider to be the key skills you can start to work on today, that will give you the best chance of success later on. 

1. Build a strong and diverse network 

This is one of the most valuable assets you can have as a leader, and you can lay the groundwork from wherever you are in your career, knowing that it’s never too late to embark on this journey of growing a professional network. As a source of support and information, a well-tended network must cast a wide net, encompassing individuals outside your immediate circle, job function, company, sector, industry, country and even continent. It enables you to widen your reach, raise your profile and instil confidence in yourself and others.  

Business coaches recommend you spend at least eight hours in your working week building ties and networking for optimum success [2], reaching out online or in real life, via events like everywoman’s Global Summit, with reciprocal requests or sharing resources and recommendations. You can find lots of resources to aid you as you launch and grow a successful network on the everywomanNetwork’s designated learning area: Networking.

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2.   Actively seek feedback and embrace your learning potential 

Proactively seeking out feedback—and being receptive to hearing and acting on it—is essential for growing a career to leadership levels; 89% of HR leaders agree that continuous peer feedback and check-ins produce successful outcomes [3].

Knowing how and when to ask for feedback is a learned skill—as is reining in your own instinctive defensive reactions to hearing it. Get used to asking trusted people for feedback as often as you can, both in formal and informal settings and seek to truly understand what they’re telling you- rather than listening so that you can deliver a response. Use feedback to fine-tune your performance, understand others’ perceptions of you, or improve specific skills such as meeting presentations or public speaking, allowing others to highlight how you come across and what your stakeholders need from you to improve.  

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3.   Seek to understand where your weaknesses lie—and plan around them 

Being self-aware and honest about where you might need to do some work developmentally, where the gaps are in your skillset and what that might mean for your career is a habit of self-reflection that is worth getting into early. A pervasive leadership myth is that leaders must know everything and have all the answers, but vulnerability is a crucial leadership quality—as is continuous learning and a growth mindset. Allowing yourself to be open and honest about what you need to learn to progress and perform better at earlier stages is a key part of the preparation for the progression of your career, alerting you to what you need to do or learn to take the next step and laying the foundations for authentic and transparent values-based leadership as you progress into more senior roles.  

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4.  Build resilience and your ability to take risks by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone 

According to a recent study by KPMG, 69 per cent of women are open to taking small risks in the workplace to further their careers, but only 43 per cent are willing to take bigger risks associated with career advancement [4].

Learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable is a powerful skill to start developing; for many women, uncertainty and doing things differently can translate to discomfort, but this is often just us feeling the resistance of our comfort zone as we push against it. Whether we retreat or move forward and grow is a key question that can separate a good career from a stellar one, and learning to take calculated risks now in your work, looking at the impact, rewards and probability of the positive outcome of your actions, will increase your confidence, allowing you to explore your potential to its fullest.  

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5.   Know your values—and stand by them  

Two elements that are core to powerful modern leadership: knowing your own values- and accountability. Having this kind of awareness and emotional intelligence can guide you in your career and, in turn, inspires others. In an ideal world, your values should closely align with those of the company you’re working for. Your values tell you who you are, what you need in your life and work, and your self-belief, and living congruently with them will lay the foundations for authentic and transparent future leadership.  

Research by leadership accountability expert Vince Molinaro [5] found that 72% of business leaders agree accountability is critical for business success, so do a deep dive into your personal brand now—it’ll help you understand your drivers and practice staying accountable for the work you do and the actions you take in alignment with these inner signposts. 

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A special thank you to our brilliant everywomanAmbassadors for bringing their expertise and experience to our leadership series. 







everywoman’s Ambassadorsare senior women in business, representing a myriad of roles, job functions, sectors and industries. They are exceptional female role models who share everywoman’s commitment to advancing women in business, and who play an active role within their organisations and the wider community to enable greater diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus on gender.


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