What does it take for someone to lead? Is it just something that they jump in and do or do they have to be asked? Senior leaders are looking for those individual contributors that jump in and start leading regardless of their title or role. Those are the people who stand out and are seen as having potential to do more and progress up the ladder. You want future leaders who take the initiative to learn, grow, solve problems and execute. Leaders do not have time to tell each person what to do and when to do it.
In an article called Don’t Wait to Be Asked to Lead by Harry Kraemer, a professor at Northwestern and former CEO of Baxter, he offers a roadmap of 5 things you can do to build your influence and start leading right away. Here are the 5 ways that were highlighted in the article:
Lead From Where You Are
Look for opportunities to volunteer for a project that no one is doing or lead a taskforce to come up with new ideas to close a gap that exists. It will get you visibility and give you a chance to start practicing how how lead a group of people to deliver on a goal. (Here is an infographic on the Top 10 Ways to Gain Visibility that will get you noticed by your senior management)
Start Offering Solutions
Identify a problem that needs to be solved. It can be a process change, simplification opportunity or a brand new idea that would add value. Put together a proposal, use your influencing skills to gain alignment from others and make a recommendation of how to solve the problem. Those who bring solutions also have the opportunity to execute their recommendations, gain visibility and build confidence.
Do Your Research
Minimally you need to understand the company that you work for from a business perspective. Have you also considered that you need to understand the companies of your vendors and customers also? Understand your industry and how your company is doing compared to others. Are there things that could be done which will make the company more competitive? This is where you start to develop your strategic thinking and business acumen.
Build Your Network
Most people build an internal network because they understand that it helps them get things done, learn information and builds credibility to progress in their career. Building your network externally is just as important. Connecting with other people at different companies but in the same function helps you have perspective and learn from each other. Looking at other industries to see what you can apply to your own industry or company can be very useful. Be aware if you are talking to your competitors though, so you don’t share any confidential or competitive information.
Encourage Future Leaders
Continuing to build future leaders is a responsibility that all current leaders should take seriously. Think about the people that helped you along the way. They chose to invest their time and effort in helping you to succeed. It is time to pay it forward and help those who are coming up behind you now. Share the lessons that can help them move through the learning curve faster. Support their success whether they report to you or are in your organization.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to begin leading if you aren’t doing it already. If you are already leading, but looking to help others increase their leadership, this should help you with that as well. Taking ownership of your career and striving to be a stronger leader will help you stand out in a crowd. Ask for what you want and demonstrate that you are ready to take on greater responsibilities. Doing these things well will establish you as a leader whether you have the title or not.