Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean managing a team of people.
You can be a respected leader among your workplace peers and within your industry without any direct reports at all. Leadership is about how people learn from you, seek your advice, and are inspired by you.
Lynn Szostek, PhD, Capella MBA faculty, shares her tips on how to best 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 hashtags for your industry. Be careful to 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. (As a Capella student, you can practice this step in our MBA Central online hub, where professors and students share ideas and have conversations.)
- Create content: After curating content for a while, you’ll start to have your own ideas about trends in your industry. Share them! 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 by curating and creating content, you can 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 national conference.
2. Join a professional association
Get involved with a professional association in your industry by attending meetings, networking with members, and perhaps serving on the board. Talk about what you learn from the association with your colleagues and encourage them to get involved, as well.
Not sure where to start? You should be able to find several organizations by doing an internet search for your industry plus the term “professional association.” Start out by attending events and find ways to get more involved. Build your leadership skills by volunteering to head up 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 things 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 saves up-front money, sure, but the increased time it takes to replenish supplies results in inventory holes, which greatly 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-throughs and thought “Hey, what if we did that in our retail pharmacies?” was really demonstrating leadership and creative problem-solving.
4. Think positively and proactively
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 with the Negative Nellies. They 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 together.
- Be 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.
- Be encouraging: 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 to and learn from others
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 big picture and the challenges at hand. Listening opens yourself up to new ideas.
6. Network with purpose
Networking can help you find opportunities for advancement and hone your leadership skills. Get involved in professional associations, attend conferences, and find other ways to meet people in your industry.
When you attend a networking event, your goal should be for quality over quantity. In other words, handing out 100 business cards isn’t as successful as having 5 solid conversations. The best connections are purposeful. True leaders will identify a way in which to work together or connect again in the future. Their success is 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 how to find a mentor.
8. Embrace diversity
Fostering diversity in the workplace takes attentive leadership. Good leaders understand that diversity goes beyond age, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to include diversity of personalities, ideas, and approaches. Encouraging differing viewpoints among your peers in team meetings can create breakthroughs and true ah-ha moments.
9. Master your job
This may seem like a no-brainer, but none of these ideas will make you a leader if you’re not nailing your own job. Nobody will respect you if you’re spending all your time networking and demonstrating thought leadership while turning in projects late or doing a messy job of it. You must do your work on time and with aplomb while getting involved in your industry and building your leadership credibility.
10. Understand and build upon your strengths
Many companies use personality assessments like Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder. These are great tools to help you understand how you approach problems and interact with others.
In Capella’s MBA program, we go beyond those assessments with leadership coaching. Through this program, you not only learn what your strengths are, but how to best use them to develop your leadership style and enhance your management skills. The leadership program provides you with a lifelong growth mindset to help you continuously improve and develop.
In the end, everyone is born a leader. Our success is determined by how we develop our skills, share our knowledge, empower others, and continuing learning.
Learn more about improving your leadership skills through Capella’s online MBA Program.