So you are not the CEO, not even the manager, but you can hone your leadership skills and start behaving like a leader no matter what you do or what level you are in the company. In the HBR article “Act like a Leader before You Are One,” author Amy Gallo outlines several strategies to start acting like a leader.
I have been employing a few of these over the past few years. Here are the ones I know work:
1. Knock your responsibilities out of the park
This one is a given. You have to be a rock star in your current job. Which means you have to pick jobs and assignments where there are meaty project you are passionate about. Make sure they are challenging enough to keep you engaged and that there are clear key performance indicators, so it’s obvious when you have nailed it. Or hopefully over-nailed it. And don’t be shy about letting others know what you have done. A great way to do this is to send a thank you to the people you worked with on the project thanking them for making the project successful. Build visibility and good will at the same time.
2. Help your boss succeed
Make sure you know the goals of the organization and your managers. It doesn’t have to be a “drop everything” kind of task. I picked one goal our Vice President had and focused small portions of my time over the past year on helping her nudge the needle on that goal. Knowing the vision and the end goal, set some milestones and report progress. You will get some awesome one on one time and direct feedback from your manager – the kind of stuff you wouldn’t get when talking about a regular project.
3. Seize leadership opportunities, no matter how small
Large corporations have been eliminating layers of middle management. While it used to be fairly easy to land a job in management, someone who has been an individual contributor for a long time may find there are fewer and fewer opportunities available. At one point I felt that maybe I had missed the people management boat by focusing on managing programs as an individual contributor for so many years. I did what the article suggests and interviewed for a non-paid board position at a local Portland non-profit. I have been learning about how boards and non-profits work, have had opportunities to lead and have received lots of support and coaching from the board’s president and other senior board members.
I develop my leadership skills to grow my career, but I also do it because it energizes me. It is true, the skills you gain, the experience you collect and the connections you make along the way are invaluable. Your current manager and organization reap the benefits of your new skills and confidence. And over time, others outside of your organization or in your industry will start taking notice.
Don’t be surprised if opportunity starts knockin’ – just by letting a little of that inner leader shine through.