How To Become A Leader: Three Steps To Elevate Your Work Today
As a career and executive coach, I hear from thousands of professionals each year who desire to elevate themselves and improve the career they’ve spent years developing. They want more success, reward, leadership impact, money, responsibility and impact. Many hope to become respected leaders in the career and job they’re engaged in now. But many more believe that they’ll need to pivot significantly or change directions entirely in order to achieve what they dream of and what they feel they deserve.
In conducting research on professional women’s work challenges as well as exploring their 7 most damaging power gaps, I’ve seen firsthand that women more than men tend to feel that the only way to become a respected leader at work is to risk everything and try something completely new, a belief that holds them back from making change because it’s too big and scary.
They often feel they have to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” because no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to overcome the chronic challenges they’re facing. (Here’s more about the 12 hidden challenges working women continually face.)
The reality is that you don’t have to change careers – or even your job – to achieve significant growth in your professional life this year. In fact, the more you commit to taking key steps to improve your situation now, and empower yourself to see, speak and engage in a more influential and authoritative way, the more you’ll transform not only how you work, but your entire life as well.
Below are three steps to take that will boost your career and expand your leadership growth today:
Understand how you’re different from others, and the natural skills and abilities you have that can make a difference
The great majority of professionals I meet who seek career help haven’t engaged in the one most critical step that will move them forward. And that’s to conduct a thorough, deep assessment of 1) the natural skills and talents you possess that you’re gifted in (and there are some), 2) how you want to use those skills and talents to make a difference, and 3) the outcomes you’d be thrilled and proud to support at your organization this year.
It’s essential that you understand how you are unique and special in your work (and trust me, you are, even if you don’t think so or have had some demoralizing experiences lately at work). From that place, you can identify new and different ways to use those natural talents and finely-honed skills in support of key outcomes that will bring more reward and influence in your work.
Tip: Great leaders and top contributors shine. If you don’t have any passion for your work, it’s hard to keep it up day after day and shine in it. Figure out what are you most passionate about and committed to, and how can you bring that passion and commitment forward while using the wonderful talents and skills you possess today.
Don’t wait for greater leadership responsibility to come to you – go and get it
So many professionals grouse and whine about how they’re not getting the plum leadership roles and projects at work that they feel they deserve. The problem is that, sadly, they don’t do anything concrete to demonstrate their leadership capabilities. It’s critical to understand that you won’t just be handed greater leadership influence. You have to go out and get it.
How? By stepping up your game now and identifying or creating new opportunities to lead a critical new project, head or test a new venture, contribute to an important team, or brainstorm a new business idea or initiative that you can then spearhead.
Tip: Answer this question: “What are some new ways I can share my thought leadership today?” Think about how can you tap into all that you know and have experienced to advance the organization and move the needle on something you care about deeply that will also help your company grow.
Brainstorm five new ways you could leverage all your experience and skills in your organization today, and ask to take on a new project or initiative that will help you demonstrate clearly the effective leader you are. Stretch out of the comfort zone you’re in. Build a strong case for a leadership initiative you want to oversee, and present a well-founded case for that to your manager. Keep asking until you get an opportunity to expand your contribution.
Start to behave more like a leader
Finally, do you behave like a positive leader? While there are many different styles of positive leadership (introverted and extroverted alike), I’ve found that there are some core traits of virtually all positive leaders and top contributors.
Do you engage with others in inspiring ways? Do you think about the organization as a whole and how you can support it to grow and thrive, or do you focus mostly on yourself and how you can make your own career better?
In interviewing scores of the top leaders in our country, it’s clear that true leaders and powerful contributors stand out from others in key ways.
Typically, great leaders and top contributors have these traits in common:
1. They engage with others in ways that help everyone involved
Those with positive leadership abilities understand the power and impact of strong relationships. They know how to connect and engage openly with the world around them. They’re not afraid to share what they have and know, offering their authentic viewpoints and opinions, even if those are way out of the box. They’ve pushed beyond any reluctance to share more of themselves in a transparent way and have learned how to relate well with others to build mutually-supportive relationships that catapult both parties to a higher level. They know that positive, supportive and authentic relationships are the foundational building blocks to anything and everything they want to achieve.
2. They spread what they know
We’ve all met people who are obsessed with their place in the hierarchy of things – how high up on the ladder of “success” they can get and how to stay there. These people don’t actually want others to succeed because they’re deeply insecure and feel there’s only so much power and authority to go around.
This is the opposite of the positive contributor or true leader’s mindset. Those who make a great contribution at work can’t help but share and teach what they’ve learned. They don’t see their knowledge as just some commodity to sell or hoard — they see it as information that’s important to share because it elevates everyone. They believe in the value of their ideas, insights and innovations and can’t help but share those openly, to teach others what they’ve learned. They embody the universal idea that “the more you give, the more you get.”
3. They are ethical, balanced and emotionally health and use their power and influence well
Positive contributors and great leaders have a strong sense of ethics, morals and values and they take their power seriously. They are rational, reasonable and balanced people who can manage their emotions, stress and egos successfully. They understand the effect of the influence they have, and they empathize with and respect others who have less power.
Strong contributors and leaders are careful with their words, actions and behaviors and operate with heart and consideration. They don’t whine, backstab, or tear others down. They address in mature, healthy ways what’s bothering them. They care about the way in which they affect others, rather than needing to “win” at all costs and leaving body parts in their wake. They hold their power as a special honor and responsibility not to be misused. And they are open to and respectful of important critique and assessment from others regarding if and when their actions are misguided.
In the end, if you want to be seen as a leader and top contributor at work, there is work to be done to get there. But this work will transform everything you do in a tremendously positive way.