When you think of a leader, it's easy to picture someone with years of experience sitting in the corner office. But leaders can be found at any level, and anyone who aspires to be a leader in their career can start honing and demonstrating these qualities from day one. In addition to kicking ass in your role, here are three ways to be a leader at any level.
1) Look for leadership opportunities outside of your day-to-day. You may not be given a ton of leadership at-bats (like leading projects or pitches) when you first start out. Find and create other opportunities within the agency to take charge. For example, take the lead on a proactive effort to create a database of Millennial statistics. Or start an office running crew or other interest group that doesn't currently exist. Leaders not only show that they welcome responsibility, but they're also always looking for ways to make things at the agency better.
2) Put yourself in other people's shoes. Leaders need to be able to see things from other people's perspectives, whether its their clients or coworkers. Not only does it allow them to tailor their approach to get the best work out of others, but it also helps them understand where people are coming from and react accordingly.
There are several ways to pump up your empathy muscle, but one that I like is using frustrating moments with other people as an opportunity to think about where they're coming from. The next time you feel like a conversation was difficult, take note and spend some time reflecting on what caused the other person to say or do whatever they said or did. (Liz Ryan of Forbes calls it "perspective-taking.") More often than not, better understanding someone's stance and what influenced it will make you a better communicator and collaborator.
3) Be clear on your ambitions and goals—and aware of the ambitions and goals of others. We look for confidence in leaders. Some of that confidence comes from experience built over the years, but there's also a confidence that comes from knowing what your ambitions and goals are. When we're clear on what we're striving towards—whether a it's short-term goal, who we want to be, a title we want to achieve, or a life mission—we are more confident in the steps we take along the way.
At the same time, be cognizant of the ambitions and goals of others. A true leader lifts up those around her/him and helps others succeed along the way. If it's not immediately obvious, take team members out for coffee and show an interest in their professional and personal goals.
There will be plenty of time to develop your leadership skills and experience during your career. But the qualities of a leader can often be identified right away. The more you can look outside yourself and your day-to-day tasks, the more you'll prime yourself for a leadership position—which may come sooner than you think.
Onward and upward,