Leadership / Leadership Development

Before Leadership

How do you get there?

Mark McMillion
4 min readFeb 14, 2024

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Photo by Hector Sanchez. CC 2.0.

When we talk about leadership and becoming a leader, we often begin with attributes, skills, and styles. Those are definitely important but there are some things that need to happen before you start on those. I don’t recall ever reading an article about this so I decided I’d better write it!

You think you might want to be in a leadership position someday? Here’s a list of things to work on to put you in line to lead.

Demonstrate technical competence

Know your job. Know the in’s and out’s, what makes it go right, what makes it go wrong. Know the inputs, the outputs, the weaknesses, the strengths, what impacts it, what doesn’t — gain the proficiency that makes you an expert.

If you’re stocking shelves at Walmart, then learn when the store takes delivery, how to drive a forklift, how to fix a forklift (within reason), where everything goes in the store. Figure out what you can do to make it better for the cleaning crew, for the warehouse staff, for the cashiers and customers. Don’t put price tags over the bar codes and nutritional information because cashiers have to scan them and customers want to read them.

You’re in the marketing department? Talk to the product design team, understand how and why they make their decisions. Read Build by Tony Faddell. He talks about the importance of a fully integrated company where people very much walk in other people’s worlds. Not so you can tell them how to do their job but to learn how you can do your own job better.

By the way, when you’re trying to make things easier for other people, sometimes you need to tell them. They may get it or they may not. You want to make sure they do. It can be contagious!

Demonstrate potential

How? Go above and beyond what’s asked. This follows the above like night follows day. When you get caught doing things to make other people’s lives easier, bosses will note it. You’re clearly demonstrating a deeper, broader understanding of the company. That’s leader stuff.

Ask for feedback, ask for more work, and more responsibility. Leaders want to grow and get better. The status quo…

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Mark McMillion

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Works available on Amazon.