We often hear the advice that employees at any level of the organization can and should become leaders. Figuring out how to be a leader when you are in a position in which you don’t supervise anyone, you don’t manage a budget, and you don’t have a place in the hierarchy that would give you positional authority to influence policies, programs, or procedures can be a little bit daunting. This is especially true for employees in organizations that have clear vertical hierarchies. Here is some advice that employees at any level can follow in order to build their leadership skills and establish themselves as leaders within their organizations.
Excel At What You Do
No matter what role you occupy you should strive to do it well. Make an effort to learn as much as you can about how to do your job, but also take the time to learn how your job impacts the jobs of those around you. None of us work in isolation and you will find that the work that you do often feeds into someone else’s job. Speak to the people in other roles around you and your managers. Find out how your work fits into the organization’s goals. Find out if the way you are doing your job creates extra work for someone else or if by taking a few extra steps in your job you could make someone else’s work easier, more productive, or more value-adding. For example, imagine that it is your job to find articles to help someone write a policy paper. Find out how they like to receive their articles (i.e. whether they like to read them electronically or in paper format), find out what kinds of sources they prefer based on the audience of their paper, and you may even skim the articles and prepare summaries of the key points for the author to save them time when they are working on their paper.
Get in the habit of asking questions at work. When you receive a new assignment ask questions to make sure you understand exactly what is expected of you, when the assignment is due, how the assignment should be done, and when the assignment has been completed. When you are presented with a new initiative or announcement at the workplace ask questions about how your work and the work of others will be impacted. If you don’t understand something ask for clarification. Asking questions has many benefits. First, it helps you to be able to do your job better. Second, raising issues and questions can help bring new information or points of view to the surface which might otherwise have been missed. Finally, asking questions can actually help you to help others to be heard as well. When you have a question about a new project it is very likely that someone else in the room has the same question as well, but there are many people who are reluctant to ask in a meeting setting.
Become an Expert
There are different types of authority. Some authority is based on seniority or hierarchical position, but some authority can also be based on knowledge and experience. You have knowledge and experience relating to your job, but you can also build expertise in other areas around your job. For example, if you interact with clients then take the time to get to know them and their needs so that you can serve as a client advocate at meetings. If there is new legislation coming out that could impact your workplace then take the time to learn about it and share it with your supervisors and managers. You can also learn about special considerations to your workplace such as the accommodation of disabilities.
Always be willing to learning and grow as both a working and a person. Try to say yes to as many opportunities to learn as you can. This could mean participating in formal training courses, joining special project teams, or even reading both in your free time and as part of your assignments. Try to find mentors who can help you and give you advice either within your work organization or through your professional networks. Whenever you take a course or attend a workshop make an effort to share what you learned with your coworkers. You can do this either by making a short presentation at a meeting or even putting together an email or a wiki entry outlining the key points.
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