Is leadership in your career future? Or, are you already in a management role and are eagerly searching for ways you can be even better? Here’s the good news: Regardless of your current rank or position, there are tons of different ways that you can give your leadership skills a boost at work.
Put some (or all!) of these 10 tips into play at the office, and you’re bound to transform into the type of leader that everybody admires — whether you have the title or not.
1. Offer to Help Someone Out
Here’s the thing that’s easy to forget about being a leader: Most of the time, it involves putting other people’s needs and priorities well above your own. It doesn’t matter what’s on your to-do list for the day — if one of your direct reports is having a problem, it’s your job to step in and fix it.
Even if you don’t have the fancy title that says you’re a manager or supervisor quite yet, that’s an attitude that you can adopt immediately.
If you see a team member struggling with a tough project? Offer to sit down and talk through it with her. If a colleague is absolutely buried under work? See if there’s something — even something small — that you could take off of his plate.
That’s an attitude that will serve you well not only as a leader, but as a team player as well.
2. Set Self-Imposed Goals
Your company has probably already dictated some quotas or targets that you need to meet in order to be considered successful in your role.
However, leaders need to be highly goal-driven. So, if your company-mandated objectives aren’t quite enough to motivate you, go ahead and set some self-set goals that you can shoot for.
Whether it’s picking up an entirely new skill or wrapping up a project well ahead of the assigned deadline, getting in the habit of meeting and exceeding goals will ensure you’re well-equipped to be a leader when the time comes.
3. Get Outside Your Department
Before you climb the ranks, it’s easy to become isolated within your own department. You keep your head down and stay focused on the work that immediately impacts your team.
But, when you’re in a leadership role? You’re going to need to work cross-functionally way more than you probably do right now. That means you need to become skilled at communicating with other teams and departments who might not quite speak your same language.
That’s something you can practice now — whether you work in leadership or not. For example, if you work in marketing, offer to take someone on the engineering team out for coffee to get a better grasp on what they work on, what their drivers are, and how they talk about their work.
Repeating that simple exercise with various members of your company will help you refine that crucial leadership skill of communicating effectively with people—even when their priorities or approaches are different from yours.
When you’re in a leadership role, you’re going to need to work cross-functionally.
4. Listen, Listen, and Then Listen Some More
It’s true that leaders do a lot of speaking, instructing, and delegating. But, even more than that? They listen.
The next time you’re in a team meeting or a conversation with a co-worker, actively listen to their point of view before jumping in with your own two cents. Ask thoughtful questions to get a better sense of where that person is coming from.
Listening isn’t a natural skill for many of us—particularly when we feel so much pressure to be involved and engaged in every conversation. But, the more you can practice taking a step back and absorbing the thoughts and perspectives of others, the more prepared you’ll be to be a top-notch leader.
5. Be an Encourager
Positive thinking and the ability to offer support are crucial leadership skills. Fortunately, you can step into that encouragement role on your team — regardless of whether or not you’re in a formal leadership position.
When a colleague is venting about a tricky situation she’s in with a client? Reassure her that you’re confident she’ll figure it out. When your whole team is feeling discouraged about a shared group project? Be the one who steps in with some positive thoughts — and maybe even a round of coffee for the whole team.
Life isn’t always easy at work, and everybody appreciates the person who’s willing to look on the bright side and boost everyone’s spirits.
6. Get Familiar With Your Strengths
While many leaders are excellent at what they do, they’re still human—which means they aren’t perfect at everything.
One thing that makes for a strong leader is self-awareness. Can you recognize the areas where you excel? Do you know where you could make some improvements? You can identify those by asking yourself questions like:
What projects do you most enjoy?
What projects do you feel most intimidated by?
Out of the projects and tasks you enjoy, are there any common themes?
Reflecting on past feedback, are there certain problem areas that crop up again and again?
Questions like those will help you take a discerning look at yourself and get a handle on both your strengths and your weaknesses. When it comes time to own responsibilities and delegate, that knowledge will serve you well.
7. Take Control of Your Own Learning
You don’t always have control over when you’ll get to step into an official leadership role —things like budgets, timing, and office politics can easily get in the way of your best intentions.
But, one thing you can control? Your own level of initiative. Not sitting idly by and waiting for things to happen for you is a great way to prove that you’re leadership-worthy.
Have you recognized that you could improve in a specific area? For example, perhaps you know you need to get better at leveraging data to make decisions. Take a course. Do some research. Ask for help from someone in your organization who excels at that.
Do what you can to grab the reins and be in the driver’s seat of your own professional development. That’s one of the best ways to advance your career — whether you have your sights set on leadership or not.
8. Solicit Feedback
Of course, leaders are responsible for providing feedback. But, if you’re not currently in a management role, that can be some dangerous territory. It can seem condescending and irritating when you offer constructive criticism and difficult feedback to your peers.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t solicit feedback. And, doing so is another mark of a great leader.
During your next one-on-one with your boss, explicitly ask if your manager has noticed any areas where you could do better. If you’re working on a shared project, ask your teammates how they think your portion is looking.
Will this criticism always be easy to hear? Not exactly. However, it will help you get better not only in those highlighted areas, but also at receiving feedback in general. Leaders need to know how to do that.
9. Own Your Mistakes
There’s nothing worse than a leader who tries to sweep their own blunders and missteps under the rug. Leaders need to accept accountability for their own actions, as well as the actions of their direct reports.
As tough as it can be at times, get in the habit of owning your own mistakes right now. If and when you screw something up, take the steps to fix your error and loop in the relevant parties right away — rather than hoping it’ll slip by unnoticed.
The humility to admit to your screw-ups and then learn from them is an important — yet often underrated — skill of some of the best leaders.
10. Step Up to the Plate
Not in a leadership role? That doesn’t mean you can’t be viewed as a leader on your team.
One of the best things you can do is take initiative. Ask your boss for increased responsibilities. Volunteer for that challenging project. Do the dirty work that everybody else stays far away from.
Yes, leaders get to delegate. But, they also need to be willing to take charge, get their hands dirty, and quite literally take one for their teams. Fortunately, that’s a skill you can start refining right now.
There’s a lot that goes into being a great leader, and nobody’s born with everything it takes. Much like any other skill, there are certain things you’ll need to work at and refine. The good news? Implementing these 10 tips will help you do just that.
Do you have any other tips to improve your leadership skills at work?
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