And become a great leader
If you’re looking for quick progression, especially during the early years of your career, it’s not enough to just “do a good job.” That’s the bare minimum you should be doing. If you want to move up towards a leadership role, you need to convince others that you’re ready to lead; you need to act like a leader before you’ve even become one.
To achieve this, in the words of Michael Jordan, ‘you must earn your leadership every day“.
Here are 10 things you can do to help you do just that. 5 of which are for the benefit of others and 5 that are exclusively for you.
Things you should do for others
1) Be Prepared
Execution is just the tip of the iceberg. Preparation is the mass that’s underwater. It’s the valuable work that’s put in behind the scenes. Think about the hours that professional athletes spend training or a race or a game that sometimes lasts a matter of minutes.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
Investing your time in preparation increases your ability to perform at your best, not least because being prepared is likely to make you feel more confident in your ability and strengthened the skills and knowledge that you need to complete the task at hand.
Plus, being well-prepared means you’ll be better equipped to overcome the challenges and navigate the uncertainties that may lie ahead, so it’ll naturally make you the go-to person when something goes wrong. When others panic and are paralyzed by doubt, your preparation has an opportunity to shine.
For example, in my role in commercial sales, I loved reading about psychology — because sales is all about psychology. It’s about convincing another person that they need what you’re selling. To do so, salespeople need to enticingly articulate the value in their service or product in a way that provides a solution to the customer’s problem so unequivocally that they feel they can’t go without it.
I particularly enjoyed reading autobiographies from experts in the field who shared their experiences and provided helpful hints and tricks. You can also find an abundance of information on Youtube, or another good way to prepare is to network and ask someone who’s been in your situation for advice.
2) Adopt a Positive, ‘Can-Do’ Attitude
When you’re playing to your strengths, things feel easier, smoother, and less stressful. But in every role, you’ll undoubtedly face challenges, and tasks that you dislike more than others. The reason why these appear to be challenging and discomforting is likely to be because it’s simply not where your strengths lie.
“A leader is someone who creates infectious enthusiasm.” — Ted Turner
Instead of feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed, having a positive outlook towards the task or situation at hand will not only make the experience more enjoyable for you, but it’ll bring a sense of confidence and optimism to your team that others will naturally gravitate towards. You’ll slowly become a leader by providing that center of gravity that people are naturally drawn to when they’re looking for direction, reassuring that things will be ok, and raising their spirits, no matter how daunting the situation may be.
3) Suggest Solutions to Problems
Identifying where the problem lies is helpful — no doubt about that. But it’s only the first step. It’s only valuable in as much as it provides direction for where to look for a solution. To stand out for the right reasons, you need to make other people’s lives easier by bringing solutions to the table.
As a junior employee, this can often be daunting, and you might feel powerless to help, given your lack of expertise. Sometimes, this inexperience can be an advantage because it provides a perspective that’s more detached from the problem. So feel confident to think outside the box and to voice your ideas openly. Even if it’s not a great idea, it’ll show that you’re working to solve the problem; you’ll get points for trying.
“Followers think and talk about their problems….Leaders think and talk about the solutions.” — Brian Tracy
4) Show Initiative
Showing up is the necessary bare minimum of what you have to do in your role. And don’t worry, this is enough if you’re happy just to be one more employee — there’s nothing wrong with that; depending on your situation, you might not aspire for a promotion right now, you might be happy where you are. That’s great, do whatever it is that you need to do.
If you aspire to stand out, if what you want is recognition and advancement, then you can’t wait for things to come to you. You need to reach out and grab the opportunities that you want for your own progress. You need to recognize what it is that you want and go out and get it.
Plus, showing initiative is a demonstration of confidence. Employers are looking for leaders who are confident in themselves, who provide stability and get the job done. They can show initiative to act because they’ve anticipated the problems that may arise, or they recognize the opportunities the business should take; they’re switched on.
“Those who let things happen usually lose to those who make things happen.” — Dave Weinbaum
5) Influence Others & Lead by example
Being intentional about your level of influence isn’t about inspiring each individual, you need to think big; your actions need to be scalable. You need to act in a way that makes others naturally want to follow you; lead by example. You won’t need to convince them, let them do that themselves. If you lead by example and show that what you’re doing works, others will notice, and they’ll look to you for guidance. Whether this is by asking for advice, or by mirroring your actions, your influence will become apparent.
Things you should do for you
1) Be Prepared
Being prepared is a big one — as well as benefitting your team and your employer, it also massively helps you. Arguable, to a greater extent. Not only will you learn more, and thereby gain more from the experience than you would otherwise, but it’ll make your life easier too when it comes to executing your work. It’s quite simple; you’re giving yourself a better chance to succeed.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
2) Network Broadly
Learn from people who have gone through the process. Not necessarily just in your business, but in the industry you work in or aspire to be working in. Learning from other people’s experiences directly can be a much quicker way to become aware of what works and what doesn’t than if you wait to make those errors yourself.
Overcoming failure is a necessary part of success, because only when you’ve learned from your mistakes will you be able to avoid and overcome these in the future. But learning about how others overcame their mistakes and how they overcame the obstacles that they faced when working to achieve what you now want to achieve, will empower you with the knowledge to avoid these pitfalls yourself.
In short, you don’t have to learn everything yourself. Perhaps the most powerful source of knowledge comes from the people around you.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Gandhi
3) Think Long-Term
In the same way, when thinking about your career, it’s wise to think of it in the long term. You might not love the role that you’re in or a particular task that you have to complete. But thinking about where you want to go can help you identify how the role or the task in question is helping you achieve your long-term goal. What are you learning from these?
This will provide a sense of purpose; it gives meaning to what you’re doing. It will be much more likely that with this sense of purpose and direction, you’ll be better able to adopt a positive outlook, and more willing to invest more energy and ultimately give a better performance.
“A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.” — Jack Welch
4) Don’t Over-Sell what you can Deliver
Especially when you’re a junior employee, others will delegate parts of their work to you, and, annoyingly, everyone will think that their work is a priority. Because it’s a priority to them, but it’s not necessarily a priority to you. And, they shouldn’t reasonably expect it to be. You can’t do everything for everyone.
“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” — Tom Rath
You need to politely, clearly and confidently explain the other tasks that you’re working on, and clarify where it is that their work actually sits on your ‘to-do’ list. Provide a realistic time-frame to manage their expectations and reassure them that you’ll get it done ONLY when you’ve identified whether you actually have the capacity to do so.
5) Learn to Say No
This is a short one. It ties into the point above. It’s about recognizing what you can do and what others can reasonably expect from. It’s a tough one because saying ‘no’ can often be daunting because we don’t want to appear rude and uncooperative; nobody wants to work with someone like that.
It’s true that, as I mentioned above, having a ‘positive, can do’ attitude is a much more productive way to work and to demonstrate one’s competence. But, it’s an unavoidable truth that there are times where doing it all will be impossible; you might simply not have the capacity at that moment in time, and ‘over-committing’ to what you can do will fail to manage other people’s expectations in a way that will only lead to their disappointment when you fail to achieve what you promised.
Saying no is a sign of confidence, and competence too; it shows that you’re in control, that you understand how long a task is likely to take, or perhaps you’ve recognized that it would benefit from a particular knowledge that you don’t yet have.
The key is to articulate it politely, confidently, and cooperatively. As mentioned above, it helps to provide a solution. Provide an alternative time that you could get it done, for example, or suggest a person whose perspective would be particularly useful.
“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair