How To Get Into a Leadership Role at Work: 7 Steps

It’s not easy being a manager these days. You’re responsible for recruiting, hiring, training, coaching, modeling, engaging, monitoring, motivating, anticipating, prioritizing, planning, evaluating, clarifying, adapting, envisioning, directing, disciplining, reinforcing, reporting, recognizing, budgeting, and building alliances. And that’s all before lunch. And if you struggle with just one, your reports will say you’re over your head.

For some, a management role is the route to power, a means to intimidate critics and indulge supporters. Others view it as a ticket to the easy life, with days spent combining spreadsheets and distributing communiqués. But talented workers rebel against the former and ignore the latter. They want to make big things happen and advance their careers. They press and produce, disregard and defy, question and create. These people want to work for leaders, not managers. And they ask the question that managers fear most: Why.

As a leader, that’s the same question you should ask: “Why would anyone follow me?” It takes courage to step up to lead. But no one will follow if you’re not leading for the right reasons. Talent seeks out other talent. And talented employees want leaders who can open their worlds and make them better. So what kinds of leaders draw and develop the best talent? Generally, they possess many of these qualities:

1) Service Mentality: You hire people to make your job easier. You probably imagine how they’ll free you up to pursue those big picture projects. Sure, your employees are here to serve you. But it runs both ways. To lead talented people, you must focus on serving them. Your job is to level obstacles, to clear a path free of distractions (and excuses). You streamline processes, find resources, and keep the political nonsense at bay. Bottom line: You figure out what holds them back and fix it. By putting their interests front-and-center, you eventually make work easier on yourself too.

2) Juice: Want to know the worst word ever associated with a leader? Gutless. Talent expects their leaders to have clout. No, I’m not talking about those sycophants who go along to get along. They may be savvy and practice good politics, but ultimately no one respects them. And courageous leadership certainly isn’t executing a plan. That takes vision, focus, and stamina, but real courage – guts – means you confront issues, no matter how unpopular it makes you.

That means you don’t look the other way when your superiors adopt shady practices or engage in conflicts-of-interest. You stand up for what’s best for customers, employees, and society, unafraid to put your job on the line. You manage up by championing the important ideas and picking the right battles. You’re deft when the stakes are small and direct when they’re larger. And you’re oh so visible by staying out front. In business, that gives you juice: The credibility that commands attention and compels others, top-to-bottom, to take you seriously.

3) Experience: Everyone has to start somewhere. But gifted people really care about where they want to go. And they’ll choose you if they believe you can get them there. They’ve done their homework. They know you were once a young striver like them. But you made it – and they want to see how it’s done. So take some time to help your people understand the business. Expose them to every part of the operation to round off their skills. Your best people want to climb. Like it or not, this job is temporary to them. Develop and groom them. Give back and make it worth their while. They’ll only perform better if there’s something bigger in it for them.

4) Personal Attention: You know the drill: Give the new hire a laptop and tell him to go “make it happen.” And it often fails. To become a great leader, you must make your reports’ success into your personal mission. The best leaders are always out talking to their people. They take the time to coach and train, knowing neglect only reinforces bad habits, stagnation, and disengagement. They provide regular feedback on performance, knowing the best people crave candidness and loathe sugarcoating. Most important, these leaders pay attention. They care about their people and stay in touch on a personal level, knowing their inner lives influence their success as much as any guidance. That’s how they know when to push and when to pull back. Bottom line: The best leaders make their reports feel valued – or inspire them do those things that’ll ultimately make them feel better (and make your organization run better).

5) Openness: Want to know what separates the great leaders from good ones? The great ones are always learning – and so are their people. You can’t level off once you get some authority. And that’s one area where true leaders excel. They’re constantly asking questions, insatiably curious and never satisfied. They aren’t wary of people with different backgrounds and greater expertise – They utilize their abilities. And they recognize that change isn’t a threat, so they adapt to it (Even lead it). Most of all, they understand one of the oldest maxims of leadership: The fastest way to lose credibility is to lose touch with what’s happening – and show no interest in catching up.

Talent is always looking for a way to say yes instead of no. So leaders listen. They aren’t afraid of bad news and criticism, even when it reflects poorly on them. They’re open to constructive disagreement and debate, knowing it ultimately leads to possible alternatives. They don’t hold grudges or rub someone’s nose in it when he’s wrong, focusing instead on what was learned and moving forward. In short, real leaders absorb input and take action. Why does that matter? Even when they lose, talent knows their voices were heard and the process was fair. And that keeps them thinking, inventing, and coming forward.

6) Space: You know this all too well: Talent doesn’t color inside the lines. And they quickly tire of taking orders. That’s why top leaders give their people ownership. They don’t stand over them. They get out of the way, turning them loose to explore, test, discover, and interpret. Their role is to ask questions and guide their people towards finding choices. In other words, they give their people space to figure out how to solve issues themselves. That’s how people learn. And that’s how you can prepare your team for more complex and ambiguous issues.

The best leaders operate from trust. They don’t constantly second guess. They understand you can’t control every variable. When mistakes happen, they back their people up instead of sacrificing them. Through their belief and support, they give their most effective people permission to do what they do best: Make things happen. In return, they get their loyalty.

7) Excellence: Great leaders don’t “demand” excellence. That’s already established by the example they set. Put yourself in an employee’s shoes. When you work for a true leader, you know the bar is set high and big things are expected – every day. Your leader is always asking, “Is this the best we can do?” She makes you set goals to keep you focused and out of ruts. She pushes continuous learning to keep you sharp. And she demands results, regardless of precedents, politics, and predicaments.

Sure, you resent the occasional excesses, but you also know that your leader holds everyone accountable for sharing the load. If she plays favorites, it’s strictly on the basis of performance. Most of all, she recognizes limits. She understands that you probably can’t do what she could in her prime. But she also knows that it’s her job to nudge you to that level. That’s why her team – your team – outperforms everyone else. And that’s what it takes for you to do the same year-after-year.

8) Bring Out the Best: Every morning, the best leaders commute to work asking this question: “How am I making my people better?” How can you do that? You start by not pigeonholing your people. When you look at an employee, don’t focus on what he can’t do or what others say about him. Look at he can do – and what he could do. Most times, they’re capabilities that he didn’t realize he had.

You see, the best leaders don’t just hire people for today. They also weigh their potential. They keep their eyes open for personal interests, since that’s where their people will ultimately find their underlying abilities. Knowing that, leaders seek opportunities to help their talent build confidence. Even when their people fall short, they know it takes time, trial, and error before they finally flourish. In short, superior leaders see what others can’t because they look for it. And they push their people to a level they couldn’t envision on their own. And they reap the rewards as a result.

9) Passion: Talented people want to be part of something bigger. They dream of saying, “That’s me. I helped create that.” But they know such big moments are rare. Well, great leaders recognize those moments and capitalize on them. You see, you can’t rev up talent with a rah-rah speech, no matter how much conviction you have. Your people are adults working in the big leagues. They want to know that they’re part of a greater purpose, with leaders who have a vision and a plan for making it a reality. They want to feel essential, to see their ideas and sweat produce something significant. Most important, they want to share in the benefits (and receive some credit). People come-and-go in business, including you. That’s why you must focus on building loyalty to a mission that ultimately outlasts you.

Of course, buy-in – and the passion it produces – requires more than talent knowing where the organization is going and why. It also stems fom the day-to-day. People can only pump themselves up so much. That’s why leadership requires you to bring a contagious enthusiasm. Talent is always looking for positives and progress. And they want to laugh and have fun in the process. But a purpose only brings people together for so long. As a leader, your job is to be the person who reminds everyone why they still work here; why their work is still relevant; and what they (and the larger world) will gain from their continued affiliation. That entails more than delivering a few carefully-calibrated phrases. It means reinforcing your message, with every interaction, in both word and deed. That’s commitment. That’s passion. That’s leadership.

10) Fairness: Ever notice how most ‘boss’ humor involves double standards? From Dilbert to Meeting Boy, we hold leaders to standards that we ourselves cannot meet. Leaders and followers are hypocrites alike. That’s the human condition…and it’s comical and tragic. But true leaders – the ones who inspire loyalty, trust, and excellence – work to hold themselves responsible to the same rules as those they lead. They don’t lead from on high or from behind: They lead by example. And they view their people as equals – and don’t mind getting their hands dirty with them.

Yes, leaders have rules. But they can accept deviations and mistakes, provided they stem from the right intentions. They focus on their own behavior before judging others. And they weigh what’s important and what’s not. That’s how they know what’s truly fair. And that’s how their people know they’re being treated fairly too.

11) Consistency: You never have to wonder with good leaders. You know what to expect. They’re reliable and responsive. They deliver on what they promise. In adversity, they remain composed and focused, so others control their emotions. They don’t point fingers; they gather facts and take action. Bottom Line: They understand that everyone takes their cues from them. And they act in the same way they want their people to react.

You’ll hear experts claim talent, culture, and strategy makes-or-breaks companies. That’s true in the macro sense. In the micro world, success is all about relationships. That starts with trust. And trust is grounded in consistency and character. The best leaders are genuine. You always know where you stand with them. They don’t carry hidden agendas or say one thing to you and something else to another. They boil decisions down to what’s in the best interests of employees and customers, not what’s easiest or most profitable. And they make themselves approachable and available. They recognize that keeping doors open and confidences private supplies them with a resource most leaders sorely lack: Reliable information.

12) Recruiting: Talent is drawn to other talent. And the ability to attract the best people is one way leaders measure themselves. Great leaders are constantly looking for new talent who fit with what they need now…and where they want to go. These days, anyone can attract good people from failing competitors and disrupted industries. Question is, can these leaders keep that talent productive and happy? Have they fostered a culture where talent is developed and valued – or does their pitch belie a sweatshop mentality where people are used up like commodities? Either way, you’ll have turnover. But would you rather be a manager who squeezes people into roles or a leader who grooms talent to become bigger than their roles? Believe it: Word gets out. And when you get results and help people get where they want to go, a funny thing happens. Talent goes on the look out for you.

How to Become a Leader at Work

Benefits of becoming a leader at work

One of the biggest benefits of becoming a leader at work is autonomy. As a leader, you likely have more independence and less supervision over your daily work. In addition, you have more control and decision-making power within the organization. You also have more say in how things run, allowing you to change the workplace how you see fit.

Finally, moving up to a leadership position is often beneficial for your career, since it can lead to a higher salary and better job opportunities in the future, either with your current organization or others.

How to become a leader at work

Becoming a leader at work requires having the right skills, making efficient use of your time and displaying commitment. Below are some steps you can follow to increase your chances of obtaining a leadership position:

1. Improve your skills

The first step toward being a leader is improving your skills. Being a leader requires having a certain skill set, including the following:

If you feel that you dont have any of these skills, consider how you can develop them. For example, someone who is uncomfortable with public speaking could take a public speaking course on their own time. This coursework would likely improve both their communication and confidence.

In some leadership positions, you may also need industry-specific skills. For instance, someone looking to lead a team of computer programmers would need extensive knowledge on certain programming languages. Acquiring the necessary skills for leaders in your industry can take time and effort, so its beneficial to make a plan as soon as possible that accounts for all of the resources youll need.

2. Change your mindset

The next thing to focus on is changing your mindset. Leaders are people who are effective at communicating, working together, staying organized and taking on responsibility. You can begin acting like a leader even before earning a leadership position if you start changing your mindset to embody these behaviors. This way, people begin to see you as a leader and look to you when leadership opportunities become available.

3. Study other leaders

To become a leader, its often helpful to study the behaviors of other leaders. If there is a leader you admire within your organization, or someone who does a type of job that you would ultimately like to have, spend some time observing them. Noticing how they lead the team or handle difficult situations can inform your own leadership approach.

You could also ask to schedule some time with these professionals where you ask them about how they came into a leadership position. Doing so shows initiative and that you are interested in becoming a leader. These leaders may be happy to pass on some advice or give recommendations for ways to advance within the industry.

Another option is to study leaders outside your industry. Consider reading business leaders books or visiting their websites to build your knowledge based on their expertise. You can also make a habit of studying famous leaders and what qualities they possess by staying up to date on current events.

4. Gain additional certifications

Some leadership positions may require that you obtain additional certifications. Consider talking to the leaders within your industry about what type of certifications they received and how they got them so you can determine if the same path is right for you. You can also research what type of certifications are expected of leaders within your desired industry. For example, your organization may want someone with a Project Management Professional certification, which demonstrates advanced knowledge about managing projects.

5. Seek out leadership opportunities

While youre improving your skills and gaining new knowledge, seek out leadership opportunities wherever you can. For example, if your supervisor is looking for someone to oversee a small project, consider volunteering for the task.

Seeking out leadership opportunities provides two major benefits. The first is that it shows everyone your desire to be a leader. Your colleagues will likely remember this when they need leaders in the future. The other benefit is that seeking leadership opportunities allows you to work on your leadership skills. You can use all the things you are learning in these smaller events and find out what works best for you.

6. Ask for feedback

A productive way to discover what you still need to work on is by asking for feedback on your performance. The best person to ask for feedback is often your direct supervisor. Let them know you would like to schedule some time to discuss your job performance, then ask them what you need to improve on.

While your manager is likely the best person to ask for feedback on your job performance, you can also ask co-workers, friends or family about your aptitude with certain skills. These individuals may be able to offer some constructive criticism that can you can reflect on and apply to your development.

Once you get valuable feedback, be sure you put it into practice. For instance, if your manager said you need to improve your teamwork skills, seek out opportunities to work with others. After a few months of working on what they mentioned, you can schedule another meeting and see if they feel you have made progress.

7. Apply for higher positions

In some cases, you may be assigned a leadership position, but in others, you have to show initiative by applying for the position. Look for opportunities at your place of work or at other organizations, such as somewhere you volunteer, where you can be in a leadership position. Even if you dont ultimately get the job, going through the interview process can give you valuable practice. During interviews, youll also learn more about what the organization is looking for in a leader and what you can do to improve for next time.

FAQ

How do you show leadership at work?

10 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership at Work
  1. Be a thought leader. …
  2. Join a professional association. …
  3. Look at the big picture. …
  4. Think positively and proactively. …
  5. Listen to and learn from others. …
  6. Network with purpose. …
  7. Find a mentor. …
  8. Embrace diversity.

How can I be a good leader at work?

  1. Engage in honest, open communication.
  2. Connect with your team members.
  3. Encourage personal and professional growth.
  4. Keep a positive attitude.
  5. Teach employees instead of giving orders.
  6. Set clear employee goals and expectations.
  7. Give direct feedback about performance.
  8. Ask for feedback on your leadership.

What are 3 main skills you need to be a leader?

There are many different leadership skills required in the workplace, but the most in-demand ones include:
  • Active listening.
  • Empathy.
  • The ability to share clear messages and make complex ideas easy to understand for everyone.
  • Strategic thinking skills.
  • Creativity.
  • The ability to inspire and convince others.
  • Flexibility.

What are the 5 ways to become a leader?

5 ways to be a better leader
  1. Be self-aware. “As a leader, you are an orchestrator who needs to be focused on how to help the members of their team to perform at their best,” says Patricia Thompson, Ph. …
  2. Focus on coaching and developing people. …
  3. Be willing to talk about uncertainty. …
  4. Be empathetic. …
  5. Learn to laugh. …
  6. Ask for advice.

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