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10 ways to demonstrate leadership at work

October 26, 2022

Being a leader doesn’t always mean managing a team of people. Sometimes leadership is simply the way you help people learn and how you offer advice and inspiration when your team needs it most.

You can be a respected leader among your workplace peers and within your industry without any direct reports at all.

Lynn Szostek, PhD, Capella MBA faculty, shares her tips on how to demonstrate leadership.

1. Be a thought leader

Get a reputation for knowing your stuff and being on the leading edge of your industry. That might sound like a tall task, but don’t worry. You can do this in stages.

  • Curate content: Share relevant news articles, case studies and other publications via Twitter or LinkedIn using relevant industry hashtags. Make sure you provide context for what you share. Add value by introducing the article with some commentary or opinion of your own. Also, interact with comments on your posts or on similar posts from other people.
  • Create content: After curating content for a while, you’ll start to develop your own ideas about trends in your industry. Start a blog, publish a case study or contribute to an industry publication.
  • Speak at events: Once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader, start exploring speaking opportunities. This could include being a guest on a webinar, a panelist at a local industry meeting or a keynote speaker at a conference.

2. Join a professional association

Get involved with a professional association in your industry by attending meetings, networking with members or serving on a board. Talk about what you learned from the association with your colleagues and encourage them to get involved.

Not sure where to start? You can find several organizations by searching for your industry plus the term “professional association” online. Start out by attending events, then find ways to get more involved. Build your leadership skills by volunteering to head a committee or organize an event.

3. Look at the big picture

It’s easy to get stuck seeing things from the limited view of your position. Looking at situations from the larger lens of the company can help you make better decisions and understand difficult changes.

For example, let’s say the supply chain department of a hospital elects to contain costs by reducing the amount of inventory on hand. This could save money up front, but the increased time it takes to replenish supplies results in inventory holes, which negatively impacts patient care. Looking at things from a company perspective, you’d quickly realize that one cost-saving measure in the supply chain is not worth the larger cost of reduced patient care for the entire hospital.

Another way to consider the big picture is by observing other industries for ideas. Whoever looked at fast food drive-thrus and thought, “Hey, what if we did that in our retail pharmacies?” was demonstrating leadership and creative problem-solving.

4. Be positive and proactive

When a project doesn’t go as planned, leaders don’t dwell on what went wrong. They also don’t get caught up in office politics or spend their lunch hour gossiping. Leaders proactively seek a solution.

Be sure to set a good example for your colleagues by being optimistic. People like to be around positive people. They want to be excited about their jobs. Help create a positive, proactive atmosphere at the office.

Ways to do that include:

  • Be solution-oriented: When something goes wrong, talk about how to resolve the problem and brainstorm how to do it better next time. Come up with solutions as a team.
  • Getting excited: When a new initiative comes up that requires hard work and change, talk up the benefits with your team. Move in a direction with positivity and they will follow.
  • Encouraging others: When a coworker goes above and beyond or helps execute a project, give credit where credit is due. Empower your peers with positive encouragement.

5. Listen and learn

Good leaders don’t tell: they listen. Listening to and observing others is a great way to get ideas and gain perspective. Listen to your coworkers, your boss, your peers, your customers and the overall marketplace. By understanding the perspectives of others, you get a better understanding of the challenges at hand. Listening opens yourself up to new ideas.

6. Network with purpose

Networking can help you find opportunities for advancement and develop your leadership skills. Get involved in professional associations, attend conferences, connect with professionals on LinkedIn and find other ways to meet people in your industry.

When you attend a networking event, your goal should be quality over quantity. In other words, handing out 100 business cards may not be as successful as having five solid conversations. The best connections are purposeful. True leaders will identify a way to work together or connect again in the future. Their success is gained not in how many people they know but in how well they know those people. Get tips for successful networking.

7. Find a mentor

Simply put, a mentor is a more experienced person who shares professional knowledge and career experiences with you, the mentee. The goal of a mentoring relationship is to gain insight and advice from your mentor to develop your own leadership skills and advance your career goals.

A mentor can be someone in your company or in another company. They can even be in another industry, depending on what you’re seeking to learn. Learn the importance of having a career mentor.

8. Embrace diversity and inclusion

Fostering diversity in the workplace takes attentive leadership. Good leaders understand that diversity goes beyond age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation to include diversity of personalities, ideas and approaches. Encouraging differing viewpoints among your peers in team meetings can create breakthroughs and true aha moments.

9. Master your job

This may seem obvious, but none of these ideas will make you a leader if you’re not mastering your own job. You won’t gain respect if you’re spending all your time networking and demonstrating thought leadership while turning in projects late. You must do your work on time while getting involved in your industry and building your leadership credibility.

10. Understand and build upon your strengths

Many companies use personality assessments as tools to help you understand how you approach problems and interact with others. Learning more about your personality, communication and work habits may help you build upon your strengths and grow in your career.

Pursuing your education can be another way to develop yourself as a leader. As you reflect on what’s needed to prepare you for a future in leadership, consider an advanced master’s or doctoral degree from Capella University. Our programs are designed to fit into your life so you can maintain your commitments while making progress toward your educational goals.

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