Large companies and organizations have levels or “org structures” because, to achieve goals as a team, there must be a few senior leaders giving direction and shaping culture. A team working toward a common goal needs a central, visionary voice for direction. This is typically the role of senior leadership.
Essentially, a leader’s role is to guide the team toward a vision. A leader is different from a manager because while a manager maintains status-quo, a leader champions change and growth. A leader must know how to articulate the vision, delegate, provide support, distribute resources, and motivate the team. A leader must be respected by the team in order for the team members to follow his or her lead.
Although it is important for a single leader (or small group of leaders) to give the big-picture direction for the team or organization, when individual contributors (IC’s) and more junior leaders (rising leaders) don’t take certain leadership actions, the team falls short of potential. When IC’s and rising leaders fail to act as leaders because they don’t contribute their point of view, acknowledge each other, and connect to the mission of the team, the senior leadership is left pulling all the weight. Also, the IC’s and rising leaders stagnate their own growth, experience, and future leadership potential. Therefore, the future potential of the organization is stagnant without recruiting externally.
With so many new, growing companies and so many existing companies needing to change in order to evolve, we need more leaders — at every level, within every organization.
This lack of all-levels leadership happens for a few key reasons. Firstly, many rising leaders and IC’s do want to act as leaders but the senior leadership does not cultivate an environment where leadership at all levels is welcome. It is actually an act of leadership to remind others (especially more junior team members) that they have certain leadership responsibilities and to encourage, welcome, and reward leadership behavior.
Secondly, titles create clarity and confusion. While titles help to identify responsibilities, expertise, and seniority, people without a “leader” title often assume they don’t have leadership responsibilities. It’s up to both the leadership and the individuals to acknowledge that everyone in the organization has leadership responsibilities.
Finally, even if senior leadership encourages leadership at all levels, the ICs and rising leaders sometimes don’t know exactly how to act as a leader without more experience or official responsibility. It’s a two-way street: It’s up to the senior leadership to act as leaders and welcome leadership behavior from all levels. It’s also up to the IC’s and rising leaders to take leadership actions.
So, how can anyone, at any level, take the lead at work?
Here are 12 ways to practice leadership daily at work no matter your role, title, or seniority within the organization. You can take these leadership actions without stepping on the toes of more senior leadership.
By practicing these 12 leadership actions, you will contribute to organizational progress and you will be prepared for more responsibility and higher-level leadership roles. These leadership actions are for IC’s, aspiring leaders, rising leaders, and senior leaders as well.
1. Positively acknowledge others.
Acknowledging others builds a positive culture and reinforces constructive actions and behavior. No matter your role, you can always positively acknowledge your team members and peers for their work. In this article, I suggest five specific ways to acknowledge others on your team.
2. Seek feedback and input from respected leaders, peers, and team members.
Gathering feedback is how we learn, connect, and grow. At one-on-one and team meetings, ask for feedback (positive and constructive) to improve your performance and earn respect.
3. Cultivate self-awareness and practice Self-Study.
An extension of feedback, Self-study is practiced through self-reflection. Each week, reflect on your strengths. Reflect on what you enjoy about work and envision your career direction. This will help you to authentically grow your career and advance the organization as well.
4. Connect to your mission and show up for it daily.
This might be the most important act of a leader. No matter your level or title, you should know your mission. Why do you show up to work each day? What is the impact you hope to have on yourself, your team, your organization, and the world through your work? A personal mission statement keeps you tethered to your goals and intentional in your actions.
5. Celebrate your wins.
Record your milestones and learnings each week in a journal. Pause to acknowledge the progress you made. It’s satisfying and self-motivating to reflect on your wins. This will keep you even more tethered to your mission!
6. Never stop learning.
Since leaders champion change and growth, they need to learn in order to change and evolve themselves. Attend conferences, take classes, read, and connect with like-minded learners.
7. Communicate with clarity, control, and a positive tone.
Whether you lead a team or not, communication at work is key. Before sending an e-mail, delivering news at a one-on-one meeting, or presenting at a team meeting, prepare and review. There are more tips for clear, positive communications in chapter 3 of my book, Awake Ethics.
8. Be solution-centric.
Problems, questions, and requests become open wounds that hold the team or organization back from making progress when people don’t proactively develop solutions. A solution-centric leader envisions solutions rather than problems, they voice those solutions, they engage others for help, communicate with a positive tone, and align others around the solution.
9. Rally the right helpers and welcome insights.
While it seems like a strong leader can do everything themself, a strong leader actually seeks help and expertise to accomplish the work more efficiently and accurately. Know your organization; know the subject matter experts and know who to go to for help and advice in different circumstances. Leaders delegate and harness the talent within the organization to make more impactful progress.
10. Share your point of view.
This is a really hard one for many junior team members and individual contributors. Why? It often feels as though senior leadership is not open to hearing junior points of view. Junior leaders and individual contributors often shy away from speaking up in meetings about their point of view. Instead of hiding your point of view or only expressing it at home to family and friends, find the right way to say it to your peers or senior leadership at work. Leading with a positive statement and framing your point of view as an option or opportunity is a great way to present your point of view in a positive light. If the organization needs and will benefit from your point of view, speak up and frame it in a positive, opportunistic way.
11. Practice patience and perseverance.
When you find yourself in a difficult situation — when you feel like responding with emotion or giving up in the face of challenge, pause and remember “patience and perseverance”. Finding this balance in any moment will help to steadily move forward.
12. Lead by example.
Finally, always lead by example. Do what you know is right in any situation. We learn from respected leaders and influencers, but the ultimate transition to leader happens when we start to act authentically in the way we would act, as ourselves.
Do you agree that these are actions of a leader? Do you agree that these actions can be taken at any level?
The funny thing is that these actions are sometimes overlooked not only by IC’s and rising leaders, but by senior leaders as well! This is why people at any level and every level need to take the lead at work. People across levels and generations can learn from each other as individuals take the lead and lead by example.
Now, it’s your turn!
I have added a free download document, Leadership at any Level, to our online Free Library. This is a reflection document that will help you bring deeper awareness to these 12 aspects of your leadership and inspire action for personal and professional growth.
Download it here and work through the reflection questions.
Thanks for reading!
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