Many students and professionals dream of a vertical leadership career. Even in times of study or training, vertical careers were often preferred to horizontal careers, and many dreamed of one day leading their own employees as team or department heads.

But the road to it is difficult. On the one hand, leadership is increasingly dissolved in the course of agile methods, so that teams make decisions themselves and support Scrum Master and Product Owner. So there are fewer real disciplinary roles than there were a few years ago. On the other hand, these few positions are often still allocated via vitamin B or assessment centers (mainly in large companies) are often necessary, which cost a lot of time.

Of course, a leading role requires some factors such as vitamin B, skill, happiness and much more. You also need to mature as a personality into a natural authority. However, I would like to mention an important component that was shown in my last study on managers. I’m going to point out that people without leadership experience often don’t get leadership because you don’t have experience. Conversely, they can’t collect them because you never lead. How to break the vicious circle, I will show in the following.

Devil's Circle Leadership
Figure: Vicious circle in leadership

About a lighthouse project for leadership

The majority of the executives I interviewed in the Lindner and Greff study (2018) took over a very difficult lighthouse project in the company before they became managers. Such a difficult lighthouse project can be identified by the following features:

  • It has absolute management attention
  • It has too few resources and is often above the deadline (or starts new)
  • It’s highly political
  • It brings a lot of money to the company or has already swallowed up a lot of money
  • The current status is unclear and the project threatens to fail

Based on these facts, established project managers do not want to take over this project and, in the absence of alternatives, young people with little experience are often given the chance to take over the project. For you, however, this means a big risk, as the chance of failure is very high and a lot of overtime will be incurred. So prepare for stressful times. However, the project will also put you in a lot of contact with managers and the company’s board of directors. Also, as a person, you will continue to mature and gain a lot of experience.

Now it’s time to show what you can do. Also, during this time, private life should be somewhat set back. They have a high chance of failing, but there is also much to gain. Some employees will certainly look at you with scepticism. However, there is an opportunity for you, for example, to complete a project that has already been devouring money for many years or to make a profitable project successful with too little time and resources. This strong reference in the company is then often known up to the Board of Management.

Now you have the best arguments for a first leadership role on questions. But then the work really starts. This has resulted in at least many conversations with the executives from my study, as well as my observations in my own environment.

The first leadership role is the most difficult

After the project, you often get the status of “Rising Star” in the company. But you also earned this after a stressful project. After all, you have shown that you can achieve a lot in a difficult environment with minimal resources. The tip is: Find the conversation with the supervisors. Often there are the following options:

  • Establishing a project in the company
  • Restructure the existing area
  • Building a new area

You will either continue the project as a team leader (the project will become a permanent team), you will get a new area (building area) or you will have to restructure an established area that is no longer going well. Sure, there are more possibilities, but usually you get these offers.

If you still stand up to this challenge, you have” as a manager, so to speak. Of course, your journey never stops and you will face new challenges all the time. Also, remember that mentors have helped you and you can now share your knowledge with others.

Conclusion: Show what is in you!

Of course, these are not all factors, and there are other ways to become a leader. Nor did I mention important factors such as personality, skill and relationships. However, the ability to take over a lighthouse project can help you show in the company what you can do. It serves as a kind of honest reference that you are able to achieve a good result despite little experience and with few resources. I think this is a good way to go, but it also requires a lot of courage to take on such a great challenge. Here are other articles with tips on how to tour:

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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