How to be an Aspiring Leader Early in your Career

Uncategorized Feb 16, 2021

When you have high career aspirations, you need to establish right off the bat that you can be at leader. In fact, you probably already are and just don’t know it yet.

I am a firm believer that we all are leaders, whether our job has that in the title or not.  We lead at home, in our communities, and in both personal and professional projects.  In fact, when I transitioned from a formal leadership role with direct reports, to no supervisory duties, I had trouble remembering this.  It took a team mate to say that I still was a leader every time I stepped in front of a class to teach leadership skills.  It was my job to lead the participants through the material, connect to them, see the importance of the skills.

 It was kind of a “duh” moment, but so many only equate leadership with the formal ability to tell others what to do.  It’s so much more!

 Whether you’re new to a particular organization, project or team, or you’ve been thinking about a way to get to the position you really want, being a good leader is important. Everybody can think of at least one “natural” leader in the office, but the whole adage about being a “natural born leader” is a lie, really.  True, some are born with innate personality traits that make leading easier, but no one is born with all the skills they need. Everybody has to learn something to be a great leader.

 As we celebrate President’s Day, we can ask how do people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln become great leaders if they’re not born with all those skills?

 It all starts somewhere early in your career when you decide that you would rather lead than follow. (BTW, you will always follow, too, but that’s a different post!)

When you’re trying to become an excellent leader, you have to first make a name for yourself.

 Be known for good things! 

 It’s so important to find the balance between wanting to become a leader and looking like someone who is overbearing or ridiculously ambitious. 

 I can’t tell you the number of times I “interview coached” someone who was looking for the promotion for the pay increase!  Let me just say, be careful what you wish for!  There’s a reason leader get paid more so make sure you are ready for the extra responsibility.

 Below are my best tips to help you become a great leader at work without turning people off:

 Get to Know Everyone

 No matter who they are, or what they do, whether they’re related to your projects or not, make it a point to really get to know everyone you come in contact with. This means getting out and mingling a little bit.

 For example:

  •  Go to company gatherings.
  •  Stop and talk to people; show a true interest in their work.
  •  Ask others about themselves – let them do most of the talking.

 Even if they’re not people who can help your career directly, getting to know those you work with will teach you a lot about how the business works and what is going on.  You can start making connections between the different individuals you come in contact with and this can lead to wondrous things later when you need to put together a team.

This is one of those things that may come easier to people who are extroverted by nature.  But being an introvert isn’t a show stopper by any means! In fact, a Harvard Business Review article, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses highlights the benefits of being an introverted leader.

Introverted people with leadership aspirations will just have to make a more concerted effort to do this and they can expect it to drain a fair amount of energy.  But knowledge is power and getting to know everyone will pay huge dividends in the long run.

Know When to Turn Down Work

Leaders are often considered the go-to guy or the go-to gal, so you might think a leader needs to accept every proposed project. In reality, this isn’t true. If you look over a project and determine you can’t handle it well, you’re going to be in a much better place by not accepting it.

Show respect to your colleagues and client by helping them find a capable person to complete the project if you’re not able to do so.

You should never avoid a project just because it is too much work. Always cite specific reasons you can’t complete a project. This shows that you are able to take ownership of your schedule. Plus, it proves that you only want to provide top quality results to others, not just rush jobs.

A simple “no” can be a great way to get others to take notice, especially if you’re otherwise very agreeable.

As in so many things, it’s how you say no that matters here.  Control the non-verbals, control the tone.  Communicate from a place of reasonableness and helpfulness. 

Here are a few positive ways to turn down a project or assignment.

  • “I’d really love to help out but I’m just swamped right now. I’d be able to do it next week, or perhaps I can help you find someone else who can get it done for you. I don’t want to do a crummy job just to get it done on time for you.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me! I want to help out but I have a lot on my plate this week. What about we setup a quick meeting to discuss the task and see if I can help you get on the right track, that way you can get it done on time?”

Work as Hard as Anyone Else

One of the great traits of good leaders is their willingness to work as hard as any of their teammates. If your team is working long hours, work with them. Lead by example and show them you’re willing to work and not just sit back and receive the credit.

By showing your team this kind of respect, you’ll find they’ll respect you in return.

 Also be willing to do whatever needs to be done – ego aside!  I was a team lead and one of my project leads needed a note-taker at a meeting.  No one else was available, so I went along and did it.  One person in the meeting even commented “I can’t believe you’re the scribe!” To which I replied “it needed to be done.” 

 There are no tasks “beneath you”-- only tasks that need to be done.

 Offer Solutions

 While you should strive to tackle problems before they happen, from time to time this isn’t possible (who knew that life happens?). When things are problematic, make sure you step in with a solution that you’re willing to work on to improve the situation.

 Being remembered as someone who came forward with a solution will go a long way to earning respect as a leader in the workplace.  Pretty much every leader I worked with wanted their people to come to them with problems, and also with an option or two to solve it as well!

 If leadership is on your aspirational glide path, it never hurts to start early and use these tips to be seen as an up-and-comer rather than an in-it-for-the-money-or-power person.

 Leaving you with this from the Lighter Side: “My esteem in this country has gone up substantially.  It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”  President Jimmy Carter

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