In our personal lives, when we plan a driving trip, look at a map, or follow directions someone gave us, we look for and value landmarks along our way. They give us confidence in our progress and show us how far we’ve come, and inform us of how far we still have to go.
In business we don’t call them landmarks, we call them milestones. We set them for projects, to give us signposts of progress and a path to follow. When we do this we do it early in (or at the beginning of the) project to gain maximum benefit from them. Whatever we call them, or whatever the context, milestones are a concept we are all familiar with.
Yet on some journeys we embark on, we don’t have any, or enough, milestones or landmarks on our path. I believe that for most people our own leadership development may be one of those instances.
If you work in an organization with a highly evolved and strategically built leadership development process, some milestones may exist, but they are typically about positional destinations. As you will see in the milestones I’ll suggest below, they aren’t all about positions, though some are. In this case you can see these milestones as a broader, bigger picture than perhaps what your organization provides.
If you work in an organization devoid of these plans and processes, then these milestones may become even more valuable to you. So let’s get right to them.
The Five Milestones
Realizing that leadership is an action not a role. You are a leader when others choose to follow you. Sometimes that choice is made easier because a position you hold, but it isn’t the most important part of the puzzle.
When you reach this milestone you realize that you can make a difference from wherever you are. This doesn’t mean that you are grabbing power and trying to lead in every situation, but rather you realize you can when needed, that you can make a bigger difference, and that you don’t need to wait for a promotion to do so.
This realization, taken seriously, leads you to think about yourself, your actions and your life differently.
Being a first time supervisor. This is the first traditional and a logical milestone. Being placed in a role of leading, supervising and managing others is an important and obvious milestone on your journey. Even if you have reached the realization that leadership isn’t only about role, being in the role and dealing with the complexities that come with it are an important point in your leadership growth and development.
Leading leaders. This could be a be represented by a variety of job titles depending on the custom, culture and size of your organization, but the point at which you are more than a first line supervisor, where you have other formal leaders looking to you for guidance, support and direction is a significant milestone and learning opportunity.
Being sought out to coach and mentor others. As I said, you are a leader when others choose to follow. Another significant milestone comes when others (including other leaders) aren’t just following, but asking for and seeking out your advice and wise counsel. This is a validation and recognition moment – not one to get arrogant or over-confident about, but a time to become even more aware of what you know – and what you don’t – about the complexity of leadership.
Realizing leadership isn’t about you. It is an important milestone when we realize, internalize, and behave from the realization that our job as a leader isn’t about us, it is about others, the organization, the goals of the organization, the Customers and Stakeholders, and the communities in which we live and lead.
Call it servant leadership or one of many other names, but the point at which you realize that what you are doing has a higher meaning and value is an important leadership development milestone, and as will all other milestones, change your thoughts, behaviors and perspective.
Different than a journey by car, you might not reach these milestones in a specific order, but that doesn’t change the importance of the milestones — each is valuable and each can be a part of your journey.
Make no mistake: the process of becoming a highly effective, competent and confident leader is a journey. Having milestones along that journey will make your path smoother and will keep you focused on the road ahead. You may want to add others to this list, but it is at a minimum, a great starting point.
Be alert and keep your eyes on the road. Your destination is worth the effort.