Just because you don’t have a title, doesn’t mean you’re not a leader. But if you want to someday gain that title, and the position of team leader or manager, then there’s a dilemma you’ll have to reconcile. You’ll have to be able to demonstrate leadership at work to the people who make promotion decisions, without having had a leadership role to point to.
But working on any team creates leadership moments that you’ve probably seized upon in the past, you just may not have known about them. Or, you may not have recognized them.
So in this article, we’ll outline five ways to demonstrate leadership at work so that you can recognize those moments, act on them, and use them to make the argument on why you’re the leader people are looking for.
The first way to demonstrate leadership at work is to take responsibility. Take initiative when new assignments appear and be the first to volunteer for new tasks that are applicable to your skill set. You don’t need to volunteer for everything, just the ones you know are a chance to use or further develop your skills. In addition, take responsibility for your contributions even when projects go wrong. Too many people try to shift blame and make excuses, but great leaders take ownership over problems and work to find lessons and solutions—and that responsibility mentality is also what separates aspiring leaders from inevitable leaders.
The second way to demonstrate leadership at work is to include others. We want leaders who believe that the success of the team outweighs the success of any individual. And the best way to demonstrate that is by making sure others are included in meetings, brainstorming sessions, and key decisions. The level to which you can involve others on the projects you’re working on or offer to help others with their projects shows the level to which you’re ready for leadership. In addition, by collaborating more you’ll benefit from learning about a more diverse set of experiences and skillsets—and you’ll build relationships with people who might just be a part of the team you’re one day asked to lead.
The third way to demonstrate leadership is to speak up. Be willing to share your ideas in meetings, be willing to offer feedback to colleagues and your supervisor, and be willing to champion ideas (yours or others) in meetings when decisions are being made. You don’t have to be a loud, extroverted person sharing in every meeting, but you do have to get your ideas out there. So, if you’re uncomfortable butting into a conversation during a live meeting, you can still speak up privately with the people you want to hear your ideas—either during a one-on-one conversation before a meeting or via email after a meeting. If you truly believe you’ve got a great idea to contribute you owe it to your team to speak up—and doing so will help you get noticed as a potential leader as well.
The fourth way to demonstrate leadership at work is to ask questions. Asking questions isn’t just a way to speak up when you don’t have an idea to offer (although that can be the reason and it does work). Asking questions during team meetings or conversations with colleagues helps people think through their ideas and find improvements. Asking questions also shows your dedication and enthusiasm to the team, and your ability to see things others may not see and make a contribution even when not submitting an idea. And eventually, asking intelligent questions often leads to you being seen as a source for advice and aid—and maybe even being trusted with a new leadership role.
The final way to demonstrate leadership at work is to deliver. Deliver what you promised. Get your work done on time and to the standard that’s expected. If you volunteer for new assignments, make sure you can deliver on them as well. Most often in organizations the people who get fast-tracked for leadership roles are the ones seen as high performers. It’s important to be a team player, to speak up and ask questions. But if you’re doing all of that and failing at the tasks assigned to you, then you may not even keep your existing role for long let alone be considered for leadership roles.
These five activities aren’t just about being noticed during leadership moments, they’re also about gaining news skills by creating your own leadership development program. That will give you something to talk about in an interview, but more importantly it’ll give you new tools that will help you work better. And you’ll become a leader, even without a title, who helps the whole team do their best work ever.
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