Leadership is possible no matter where you are in an organization’s hierarchy. People in management and leadership positions had to start somewhere – and most of them got where they are by proving themselves as leaders before they were placed in a position to lead. But the difficult part is knowing what actions to take – and when. Here are five ideas that will help you create a leadership framework even if you aren’t the leader.
To begin with, learn to seek responsibility. This has two meanings. First, be on the lookout for responsibility higher than your own. In today’s environment, with shrinking staffs and budgets, many organizations need people who can take on further responsibility without looking for higher pay, more prestige, or even a higher position. This doesn’t mean that you should “sell out” or take on so much that your other duties will suffer. But it does mean that you should look for areas or subjects of interest and volunteer for projects or duties in those areas. Being on the lookout can also mean that you try to find ways to streamline processes or save money – and share those ways with management.
When management decides to implement your suggestion, take on some of the work that goes with it. Second, seeking responsibility also means that you fully accept responsibility for your actions. Even if you’ve made a mistake, accept it, make suggestions for change the next time, and move on. Your responsibility will help you earn trust and respect, two of the best things any leader can possess.
The next way to lead is to be a coach and mentor to others. Often coaching and mentoring is left for managers or is looked at as an “appointed” position. Don’t fall into that trap. For example, if you have the opportunity to work with people who are new to the organization, take the time to truly show them the ropes – and leave your door open for them to come back and ask questions or obtain clarification. The idea is to show that you have others’ well being in mind and that you’re not afraid to see others succeed. This is where many people go wrong; they look at others as competition and refuse to help them. But mentoring and coaching is the best way to gain respect and trust, not to mention further experience and stability within the organization. Consider the fact that someone in a higher position may ask your “mentee” how it’s going – and he or she is likely to mention you as a positive and motivating factor.
Third, always remember to exceed the standards that are set for you. This means that your goals should be a reminder of where you want to be halfway or three fourths of the way through a particular measurement time period, like a quarter – not at the end. Everyone is familiar with the advice to “under promise and over deliver”. As someone who is leading “up”, this should be your motto. Remember that your first try may put you just above the goal that was set and this is perfectly fine. When other leaders and managers see that you try hard to exceed, they are going to be more open to your leadership and eventually to your upward mobility in the organization.
Fourth, build your expertise and use it where it’s appropriate. If your position is confined to certain tasks in certain areas, take the time to learn about what other people do in the organization. One of the true marks of “high-up” leadership is a big-picture orientation of the entire organization. Leaders should know how each piece fits together and what will happen if something does not work. You should learn these things about your organization and your own area. But above and beyond this, take the time to learn about other organizations in the field and how they work. Read trade publications and be aware of the competition, as well. All of these things can build your expertise and will show you as someone who wants to have a great understanding of the entire organization.
Finally, and perhaps most simply, choose leadership. Leadership has many components, such as acting with integrity, driving for results, and negotiating for consensus. Don’t let your guard down and try to do these things at all times. If there’s a conflict, step in to try to negotiate. When things get chaotic, keep your head, drive for results, and continue to uphold the organization’s mission and values. By choosing to emulate leadership values, you’ll set yourself apart and learn to lead at all levels of the organization.
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