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How To Be A Leader, No Matter Your Position

Feel as if you’re being overlooked for management roles? Try positioning yourself in a different way by making these four changes in your workplace and personal habits.

For months, you’ve cranked out top-notch projects like a rock star. You’ve come in early, stayed late, and gotten the job done no matter how impossible the obstacles were. Yet no one considered you for that lucrative managerial position.

Could it be that you haven’t done what it takes to show off your leadership chops? Sure, you’re a stellar individual contributor, but blowing through your to-do lists isn’t the same as leading a team to victory.

In fact, you may be focusing your energies in the wrong direction when you try to land a supervisory role.

Proving Yourself Ready for Promotion

Many employees are fantastic at what they do, but many will never be in charge of anyone else because they concentrate on their own jobs and no one else’s. Think of it this way: You may have all the know-how to execute a publicity plan—all on your own. When you work in a group, you might not feel the onus to participate much because you just want the meeting to end so that you can get back to your “real” job. Maybe you tell yourself that you were hired to pitch, not to collaborate with a team or motivate a colleague.

Qualifications and seniority don’t guarantee a management position. What matters more is whether you come across as a leader. Credentials and coaching ability don’t always go hand in hand. We’ve all known individuals with impressive degrees who cannot or will not share their knowledge and experience to help the team. Ironically, many of these people think they’re exceptional coaches, according to research outlined in a Harvard Business Review article. After examining self-identifying surveys, the authors found that 24 percent of mediocre leaders in their sample had overrated their abilities. Those who thought they excelled as leaders were ranked the lowest by others.

If you want your boss to picture you as a manager, you must begin to behave like a manager. Live the supervisory lifestyle, even if you don’t yet hold the title. Try these four tactics to prove your readiness to lead a team.

1. Learn, learn, and learn some more.

Good managers have a thirst for experience and information; great leaders use this knowledge to develop their teams. Set aside time each day to dive into your industry and its related fields. You may even want to audit a free online college class or take courses on LinkedIn Learning or Coursera. The curricula for these online learning platforms include myriad business leadership topics, from how to build a team to how to manage social interactions in diverse teams.

2. Own your mistakes.

You goofed. You reached for the stars, but you missed. Now it’s time for you to admit it. You should share both the mistake and your idea for resolution with your boss. Mistakes are completely normal and even part of empowering leadership, as Jesse Werner, founder of natural skincare company Whish, observes: “If a person never makes a mistake, he or she probably isn’t trying new things or reaching outside his or her comfort zone,” he notes. “On the other hand, when someone does screw up, he or she has to own it, learn from it, and move on—and as the leader, you have to be able to do that, too.” This is good practice for when you are in charge of a a team, and you have to take responsibility for mishaps on work you’ve delegated to others. Demonstrate that you know how to reap the benefits from situations that didn’t turned out as planned. Risk is a necessary consequence of innovation.

3. Lead a project.

Haven’t been tapped to manage a project at work? Find something else to lead. It could be anything from organizing the annual summer company picnic to heading up an in-house fundraiser for a local charity. Step up and stay engaged, making sure to meet people where they are and learn how to help them bring out their individual strengths. If co-workers volunteer to help with the holiday party but hate being in public view, for example, you could assign them to work on posters for the event. If you do well—and you communicate your successes afterward—

you’ll probably be asked to lead other small and large projects. These are all stepping stones to showing management you’re prepared to join their ranks.

4. Think big picture.

Find out what you don’t already know about your company by putting on the investigator’s hat. The more you learn about your organization’s history and stakeholders, the more you’ll be able to contribute at higher levels. If you maintain a siloed view of your workplace, you can’t expand your reach beyond your limited role. After off-sites or conference calls, follow up with colleagues in other departments to get a feel for their day-to-day functions. Managers should have a 360-degree understanding of their business, and that includes understanding departments that aren’t their current responsibility or immediate concern.

Small steps toward becoming a manager may seem insignificant, or you may feel they’re not worth it until you have the paycheck to match the responsibility (hint: that’s backwards; the paycheck comes after you’ve earned the responsibility). Don’t let yourself stop moving forward. Eventually, every visible action you take toward being named a supervisor will add up. Think of this as a long-game strategy made up of short-term goals. Be sure to note all the leadership roles and activities you undertake along the way to boost your résumé and enrich your interview talking points. As you expand your knowledge and amp up your responsibilities, the person with the power to make you a manager will take notice.

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