I talk a great deal about leading at every position. Mostly because I believe that in my years as a leader, and in my studies of leadership principles, it has been marketed as a skill that only a few of us can have. That is painfully sad, and terribly daunting for employers.
This is not to say that every person will be a leader of a multinational company. My point is really to help team members, particularly junior staffers, those who struggle with confidence, or those who are great at their job but have trouble exhibiting value, understand the necessary leadership components that will help them to excel, or at least be seen as a valuable team member.
Leadership is such a weighty word. It’s a scary word because we’re expecting leaders to come well packaged - or at least that’s what we think due to the advent of social and digital platforms. Understandingly so, the word is attributed to being a noun - you know, a person, place or thing - versus a verb that emphasizes action as the accomplishment.
I’m here to affirm, if you need it, that you do not have to be award-winning, the loudest voice, or the most influential. Instead, you have to “practice like you play” as my trainer says.
Here’s how you get prepared to get in the game of leadership.
Work harder. Often when people can’t understand why no one follows them or they don’t receive acknowledgment, I double back to ask, “what have you accomplished that’s helped the company grow, or your development that leads to company growth?” You see, we get really caught up in busy work - talking to our colleagues, multi-tasking (which is dangerous), and attending events to be seen instead of meeting people, and taking the initiative to follow-up. Instead, we should focus on productive activities. Leadership is about people seeing you live out the work. That’s what’s inspiring. That’s what moves people to action. A friend once said, “to be interesting, you have to be interested.” I’d cap that thought off with you must be interested in going beyond your limits.
I challenge you to work harder. Do the work without seeking praise or acknowledgement. If you finish early, find something else to accomplish. There’s no room in leadership for complaining, especially for what you get paid to do.
Learn the difference between accountability and ownership. Leaders know that it’s not just about taking responsibility, but it’s also about working to change the outcome. Yes, it’s helpful that you were accountable for the mistake you made in customer billing, for an example. But if you then require someone else to create a process so that it doesn’t happen again then you’ve made more work that someone else will have to do. Take ownership. Make a decision, no matter your position, and stand in it. Take it from inception to implementation. And this might mean, if you’re a janitor, for example, that when asked about getting a better broom for the building, you not only suggest some favorites but you take the time to go to the store, try them out, and provide a brief analysis of how it will benefit the company.
Seek mentorship. As we’ve recently seen with the shunning of one of those Kardashian (or Jenner) ladies, there is no such thing as self-made. That only sounds good. Every single person needs mentoring. That might be a single person or a personal board of directors who can support you and also tell you “no” likely more than they agree with you. And, equally, you need someone or a group to provide support to. Mentorship is reciprocal and should be viewed as a relationship versus a transaction.
When seeking a mentor, don’t forget your peers. Very often we shun the idea of someone our age being more advanced than us, but they may be. That also leads me to question why you’re hanging with folks who couldn’t serve to teach you something?
Practice confidence. I recognize that everyone isn’t walking around with the same degrees of confidence. As the younger generation says, “there are levels!” I understand that to be even more true in the workplace. However, when I’ve worked with team members on developing the skill of confidence there has almost always been a universal truth: nearly everyone is confident about something.
I can put it to the test and see you through your computer screen nod your head.
- When someone cuts you off while driving, do you angrily pump your fist or murmur words under your breath?
- When you’re in the check-out line at that big box store, are you almost positive that there’s only one person working the lines?
- When your children (or nieces or nephews) get a little beside themselves, do you find yourself snatching them so far it feels like they’ve time traveled?
I could go on and on but the point really is that in your personal life, you likely have something or a series of moments that trigger you to walk with absolute or more elevated levels of confidence. You have to learn how to channel that into your work space.
Start small. Ask a question in a team meeting if you usually don’t say anything. Take the initiative to provide a daily or weekly update to your team or supervisor. Seek mentoring from someone in your organization. Send a thank you or congratulations card to someone you think you should know better. Challenge yourself.
Change your perspective. Most people really struggle with self-awareness. This can be tied, in some instances, to insecurities. Whatever the reason, this lack of self-reflection can stunt your growth.
When you are aware of who you are, you can better see the world as a playground for discovery. There is always a lesson to learn. There is always another lens to view a challenge through. This is how you can be open to the previous four suggestions. A changed perspective is how you begin to design the outcomes you are seeking. This is how you build confidence. This is how you lead others - by seeing and understanding their perspective and view it not as your truth, but respect it as theirs.
While there are many ways you can develop as a leader, these should get you started. If you’ve found any of these have worked, will you share an example? If you have others that work, what tips would you share?