A common myth about leadership in organizations is that it is based on positional power and the ability to compel others to act. While positional power has its place in organizations, it is not the best foundation for leadership. People don’t become leaders because they are given a title; they are leaders before the title.
In the 20th century, leadership was often defined from a military perspective--as the ability to command and control others by exerting authority over them. Most effective leaders today will tell you that control and compliance are greatly overrated. The most effective leaders in organizations in the 21st century do not rely on their authority to get things done through others, but, instead, develop and use their vision and interpersonal influence so that others are motivated to willingly cooperate, collaborate and get engaged.
No matter what position you hold in your organization, the opportunity exists for you to influence and lead others. You can cultivate this opportunity by developing the skills and practices that influence others to listen to and support your ideas. Hierarchical authority can be given; the ability to influence and inspire others must be earned.
The good news is that leaders are made not born. Some of us fall more comfortably into the role than others, but with practice, even the most introverted among us can take on leadership roles. Being seen as a leader, no matter your position or title, not only builds your confidence, job satisfaction and competence but also sets the stage for an exciting future.
How then do you go about developing the influencing skills and leadership attributes you need to get there? Here are a dozen steps toward becoming the leader you were meant to be:
- Start with expertise. Be the person who has the facts and who always follows through. Demonstrate competence in all aspects of your position.
- Take a clear-eyed look at yourself. Know your strengths and what you need to work on. Understand your preferences and temperament…your hot buttons and stress style. Identify where and with whom you need to flex your style.
- Work on your interpersonal skills as hard as you work on your technical skills. A leader’s success comes through others. Learn to display empathy: listen and ask more than you talk, and listen to understand others’ points of view, feelings and ideas fully before you respond.
- Establish trust. Be honest and keep confidences. Get comfortable disclosing your feelings in appropriate situations. Remember that honesty includes speaking up when things aren’t working. Give others credit and praise. Be kind. Model accountability by admitting mistakes and being free with apologies. Do what you say you will.
- Become known for analytical thinking and problem- solving. When problems occur, approach them logically. Don’t look for someone to blame or toss the problem to your boss. Have a suggested solution or work with others to create solutions.
- Project enthusiasm and a leader’s “can do” mindset. Realistic optimism and passion for the job at hand are just as contagious as negativity. People count on leaders to picture goals as desirable and achievable.
- Build reciprocal relationships. Make time to communicate and stay in touch with others even when you don’t need anything. Support people when they take the lead or need help. Learn to identify and adapt to social styles; meet others more than half way.
- Don’t be afraid to put a stake in the ground. Yes, be warm, diplomatic and tactful—but not at the expense of honesty or results. Get comfortable saying no. Don’t accommodate others at the expense of success. Being liked is not always the same thing as being respected.
- Have a vision for a better future and be able to paint a picture of it. See opportunities for improvement (hint: look for them in problems) and question the status quo. Embrace change and innovation in order to make improvements. Even small steps forward can be valuable contributions.
- Articulate the benefits of your ideas, projects or solutions. How will what you propose, or support, make things better? What difference will it make? Why is it important?
- Keep an open mind. Make it a point to learn from experience; ask for and accept feedback. Whenever you can, work with people who are smarter or more experienced than you and accept their ideas. Don’t fall victim to thinking that your way is the right or best way.
- Enjoy! Work should provide you with a sense of satisfaction. And we all work better in a positive and fun environment. If you can’t grow, aren’t having any fun, dread Mondays or are so stressed that your health is suffering: move on.
Want to unlock the essential skills of authentic leadership, effective communication and relationship-building? Register for ASAP’s webinar, Effective Administrative Leadership in The Executive Suite with leadership expert, Sandy Geroux. Maximize your value by becoming “invaluable” as opposed to being merely “indispensable.”