Three Steps to Becoming a Leader Even if You Aren’t in Charge

Everyone wants to oversee something, even if it is only controlling their own environment.  In the workplace, being in charge signifies that you’ve “arrived.”  That your efforts have been noted and found worthy of advancement.  Therefore, it is frustrating when you get passed over every time an opportunity to supervise presents itself.  If this happens to you, there is really only one question you should be asking:  how am I exhibiting leadership in my workplace every day?

Here are three ways that a leader-in-training can show off workplace leadership skills even if not in charge:

Focus on Your Work

There is nothing more impressive to a boss than an employee who deeply understands their role in fulfilling the company’s mission.  From executive to janitor, each worker plays an important part in the success and sustainability of a business (if you don’t think so, try going without janitorial for a week!).  Understanding your role requires that you:

  • show initiative by making sure you comprehend the primary and peripheral tasks for each assignment before tackling it.
  • know the end goal or objectives for each assignment.
  • can negotiate and achieve the timing and deadlines.
  • are applying, or are proactively acquiring, the skills and knowledge needed to excel in your job.
  • can stay on task with minimal oversight and direction.

Practicing these behaviors allows you to begin developing a single-minded focus on your work that requires minimal oversight or coaching. This concentration gives managers the confidence to delegate higher-level tasks.  Standing around the office chatting or wasting time on Instagram, won’t impress the boss.  Productivity will, and your action-oriented work style and initiative will set the tone for other workers around you as you model self-directed leadership.

Understand the Big Picture

One leadership practice underestimated by new workers is the ability to synthesize and communicate about the connections between company strategy and the external environment. Big picture leadership requires both a macro and a micro view, and a leader-in-training makes time each day to catch up on news that could affect their job, industry, or company products or services.

Set up a phone app with a selection of business and news sources (from both liberal and conservative media so you get a balanced overview) and scan the headlines every morning.  Pay particular attention to industry trends.  There is no better way to impress than by sharing your executive-level ability to articulate the impact of current minimum-wage laws or changing regulations to the firm.

Develop a Leadership Style

Leaders are above all influencers.  But how can you influence when you are not in charge?  First, influence is not about power, which is granted to you once you are offered a leadership position.  Rather, it is about inspiration, encouragement, motivation, and guidance.  Above all, it is about the ability to interact with others in such a way that exhibits behaviors others will want to model.  Check your leadership style attributes:

  • Do you have a positive, enthusiastic attitude in the office? Or do you pile on with the lunchtime gripers?
  • Do you propose fresh ideas and approaches to your boss when new problems arise?
  • Are you quick to volunteer and collaborate with your team on new projects? Go viral with your passion and vision so that others get behind your ideas (followership)!
  • Do you empathize with your co-workers and volunteer to help as appropriate once your own tasks are complete?
  • Do you network for success within your company? Avoid negative connections that won’t help you advance, but may hold you back.

You may recognize that you have some natural leadership traits, but even if you don’t, the good news is that anyone can learn to be a leader.  If you are not exhibiting the necessary attributes of organizational leadership starting with your work ethic, you may never get noticed.  Therefore, if your career aspirations have no limits, prepare yourself today by practicing these three competencies for leadership.