What can we learn from dating that applies to leadership? The friendship ladder and the relationship ladder are two different things. You can’t move up the relationship ladder and expect the top rung to be a relationship.  It’s a completely different ladder, and you need to jump from the friendship ladder to the relationship ladder (at the risk of falling into the nothingness in between!)

Being technically great at your job is like being on the friendship ladder. The further you progress, we can sometimes think the top rungs are leadership positions. In fact, it’s not the case. Leadership is a whole different ladder!

Have you (or can you) make the leap from the specialist ladder to the leadership ladder?

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Episode Transcript

Today’s episode is all about this concept I like to call the Leadership Ladder. Now, this is a “Kate Special”, and I want to explain the concept of leadership and how we get into leadership as an analogy with dating. Now, stick with me on this one. I guarantee it is worth the wait. I want to tell you first, a little story about dating, and then talk about the leadership ladder and how leaders aren’t born, they’re trained. At the end, I’ll give you a couple of options on how you can look at your own leadership ladder. So as promised the first story, one about dating.

A friend of mine was telling me about something he’s realized recently about dating and he had this viewpoint that when you go on dates or you’re dating somebody it’s like a ladder. And so you move up the rungs of friendship and then further up the ladder after friendship comes a relationship. And so when you are wanting to move to a relationship, you just need to become a better friend and get to know them better, move up the ladder, and at the top of the ladder is “relationship”.

What he realized was over time he kept on getting to where he thought the top of the ladder was, but it wasn’t turning into a relationship. Can you guess what was happening at the top of the ladder?

He was getting friends zoned! What he realized is “relationship” isn’t the top of the ladder. “Relationship” is a whole separate ladder. And what happens as you move up the friendship ladder there has to be a point where you jump from one ladder, the friendship ladder, to the next ladder, the relationship ladder. Now look, we all know some people that have been good friends with someone and then just turn into a relationship. But for the purpose of this story and the purpose of the general population. I think it’s fair to say people understand this analogy. There are two ladders, it’s a friendship ladder and a relationship ladder so there needs to be a point where you decide on the friendship ladder, are you going to make the jump to their relationship ladder? Now, these ladders are not touching each other. They are a jump apart.

And as this friend was explaining to me, when you jumped from one ladder to the other ladder, there is a risk. The risk is you might fall into the crevice of nothingness in between when you are not on the friend ladder and you not on the relationship ladder. And that is a risk that you take from jumping from one ladder to the next.  The benefit is you could land on the relationship ladder.

So it’s a nice story. What does it have to do with leadership? Well, if you think about technical specialists, when you’ve been doing a job, you might be an engineer, you might be a project manager, you could have your own business and you are technically excellent at what you do.

So as you start in your career, you start from the bottom of the ladder and you work your way up this technical ladder. What we often see in a business is when you become very competent at your role, your technical job, often we see that people then get promoted to be the leader of other technical specialists.

People are thinking that the more you go up the technical ladder, it turns into leadership. And that’s like thinking that the friendship ladder is going to turn into a relationship. This is where the analogy makes sense because technical specialists and leadership are two different skills, they’re two different ladders.

What you need to do is jump to the other ladder, the leadership ladder. And just like the story before, something that can happen when you jump from the technical ladder to the leadership ladder.  You can fall into the crevice in between, into the nothingness. For some people you might jump from the technical ladder to the leadership ladder.

You don’t end up on the same rung as you were in your technical role. You actually end up in the bottom rung of the leadership ladder. And that is because when you are in leadership, it’s a whole new skillset. It can feel really uncomfortable. When you’ve come from a place where you are technically the best at what you were doing, you were confident people came to you with questions. You knew your stuff. When you make the jump to the leadership ladder, everything feels hard. Everything is new. You no longer feel confident or comfortable. And that is what it feels like to be at the bottom rung again.

Sometimes what happens when people step into a leadership role, they decide, “Hey, this is not for me. I want to go back, back to the place where I knew my stuff and I felt comfortable”. And if that is you, that is totally okay. What I do want to flag is that because you weren’t trained in leadership?

Or is that because you’ve decided that leadership is not for you. Because, like I’ve said in my previous episodes, leaders aren’t born, they’re trained. So if you’re stepping into a leadership role expecting because you are great at your technical role, that you be great at a leadership role. It doesn’t work that way.

Leadership is a whole separate skillset. Now one way that you can make the jump from technical specialist to leadership and land on the leadership ladder. And perhaps even land further up the leadership ladder, is by having training. So there are ways that you can learn leadership. I highly recommend having a look into some opportunities to learn how to lead, because it is a skillset.

This is the whole idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. A fixed mindset says that’s a born trait. Whereas a growth mindset says, “oh, I can learn that”. And when you have a growth mindset, you are more open to opportunities and growth and you will have better results because of it.

So if you’re on the technical specialist ladder and you’re ready to leap to the leadership ladder, or perhaps you’ve made the leap and you’re kind of got lost in between, or you’ve got to the leadership ladder, but feeling a little bit outside your depth. There might be two ways that I can help you.

One is one-on-one leadership coaching. Where I can actually help you figure out what type of leader you want to be, how that’s going to impact your team and how you can reach your goals. And the other is if you have a small business, and you’re wanting to step into a leadership role. I have a program coming up called solo to CEO, which is all about growing your team, whether that is contractors, casuals, full-time part-time, whatever it looks like to you, but where you step into the leadership position, not the doing position. So stepping into leadership is stepping out of the doer and into the leading.

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope this analogy has been helpful for you with understanding where you are on the leadership ladder and if you’re wanting to step from the specialist ladder to the leadership ladder.

If you think that someone else could also benefit from this leadership lesson, or maybe the relationship lesson, please feel free to share this podcast episode with them.

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