Of all the levels of management I have worked with over the years, I most enjoy working with emerging/aspiring leaders. Their willingness to learn and their enthusiasm is contagious and fuels my own spirit and passion.
Aspiring leaders have many questions of course and the single most often asked question I hear is “how do I get to be a leader from my job as a (fill in the blank with any job title that is non-management)?
Leadership and being a positional leader are not necessarily the same. As much as we hope that all leaders display leadership qualities and behaviours, we know that is sadly not true. And by the same token, many employees (a.k.a. individual contributors) display sound and proven leadership skills. Sometimes these abilities seem inate, other times they are displayed by design.
Some have said that leaders are born and not made. I am of the belief that with the willingness to reflect on and assess one’s presence, practice and performance, anyone who wants to can mindfully learn to lead.
Following are 10 tips from Suzanne Lucas of Inc. that aspiring leaders (and current leaders for that matter!) could learn from.
(1) Communicate clearly
Leaders don’t grumble behind closed doors when things don’t go their way. They don’t say yes when they really want to say no. They say what they mean and do so in a way that people understand. This is not advocating rudeness, but it is advocating dropping passive-aggressive behavior.
(2) Learn Flexibility
There’s rarely just one “right” way to do something. If you are going to insist that things be done a certain way, you’re headed down the micromanager path, and that’s not what leadership is about. Ask yourself, “Is this the wrong way to do it, or is it just different from the way I would do it”?
(3) Don’t be a doormat
Leaders stand up for themselves, politely. Jerks stand up for themselves rudely. If somebody interrupts you in a meeting, simply say, “I’m sorry, can I finish?” If your slimy co-worker tries to dump her work on you say, “That won’t be possible.” Does this mean you never do a favor? Absolutely not. You do do favors, but you do so because you are nice or because it benefits you and the company, not because you can’t say no.
(4) Help Other
Leaders bring others along with them and share credit for work well done. Leaders don’t look for opportunities to step on others, but rather look for opportunities to help others succeed. Remember, a leader is someone who demonstrates desirable characteristics
(5) Take Responsibility for Your Mistake
We all make mistakes. Own your mistakes. When someone points out an error, don’t start throwing blame, simply say, “Thanks for letting me know. Let me fix that.” Additionally, when things start going south, ask for help rather than panicking and trying to fix everything on your own. That usually makes it worse
(6) Listen to Others’ Ideas
You may be bursting with ideas and can’t wait until it’s your turn on the stage, but take time to listen to others. Other people have great ideas as well, and a true leader acknowledges that good things can come from many sources. Don’t cut people off. Do solicit ideas. You may be surprised at what you learn
(7) Take Risks
Lots of times, people think leaders have led charmed lives where everything went well. This is rarely, if ever, the case. Failure is an integral part of success. When you can acknowledge that the risks are real but the potential payoff is enough to counteract that, you’re demonstrating leadership. If you jump blindly, that’s stupid. But if you evaluate the situation and take a calculated risk anyway, that’s leadership
(8) Remember to Network
Networking isn’t just about finding jobs, it’s about connecting with people. As you learn how to interact with people, you’ll learn which interactions are effective and which are ineffective. As you help others with their career, you’re demonstrating your ability to lead and guide. And when you show up as someone willing to help others, amazingly enough, others will show up to help you!
(9) Develop a Thick Skin
Illegal and immoral discrimination happens. Accept that it does happen and just determine not to let terrible people get you down. If someone treats you poorly, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that it was based on some immutable characteristic. Instead, evaluate if what they said or did was justified. If it was, change your behavior. If it wasn’t, don’t let it bother you. Now, in an egregious situation, absolutely report it, but let most things roll off your back
(10) Don’t Ask for Special Treatment
All that stuff you learned about being inherently special? False . You’re not. I’m not. No one is. So stop asking for special treatment and exceptions to rules. Now, can you become special by working harder and smarter than everyone else? You’ll get special treatment when you deserve it. That isn’t to say you can’t ask for what you want especially when you display extra behavior. That’s not special treatment—that’s something you earn by being awesome.