You can spend a career honing your leadership skills and deciphering leadership approaches touted by the latest experts and theorists. You’ll undoubtedly spend days participating in leadership programs. As a young professional all that will come. But what about today? What can you do right now to become a more effective leader?
You may be kicking some serious ass around the office, but to what degree is leadership part of your day-to-day? It’s an important consideration. If you’re an individual contributor leadership may not even be on your radar because it’s not an expectation of your role. If you’re a team lead or manager with direct reports, you may be so busy managing that you have little time for leading. If you want to learn more about feminist leadership in the workplace before doing this activity this article by Carmen Rios is one of the best I've read.
Whatever your role or title you can demonstrate leadership behaviors through personal awareness and focus. And you can start right here, right now. Give me 10 minutes or maybe 15. Let's do it.
Think about an influential leader you know or have known that you admire and were fortunate to interact with on a regular basis. If you are a younger professional with limited work experience, your leader can be a business or community leader, a professor or a coach. Now answer these four questions:
What characteristics or traits best describe her? Make a list of anything that comes to mind in any order. There are no right or wrong answers here, just your answers.
What did this leader do that made you feel important and valued? If this is a tough one, imagine you’re having a conversation with this person or watching her in action.
Now, look over your answers. What two or three characteristics or behaviors do you want to emulate that you believe will help you become more effective in your role?
What can you do specifically to demonstrate these behaviors? The key is to emulate, not imitate. Don’t get all creepy and start dressing and talking just like this person. You have to be authentic. For example, what can you do differently in conversations and meetings? Perhaps your leader is an excellent listener and builds instant rapport with others. Chances are a solid step in that direction is to start talking less about yourself, ask more questions and engage others as an active listener. If you respect your leader’s vast knowledge base, look for specific ways you can start developing yours. Whatever it is, develop a specific plan and revisit this activity every month or so to chart your progress. Think about instances where you totally rocked it and where you coulda, woulda, shoulda.
The secret to this approach is that it’s quick and actionable. It also identifies what you as a value most in a leader and what resonates with who you are in this time and place. Meaning you can start today, right now. And when you participate in that leadership program or read or watch TED Talks (here are 5 leadership TED Talks to get you started) you can smile because you'll realize you’re already doing some of the right stuff. And, as a young professional with a promising career, that's an amazing feeling.
What do you admire most in a leader? What characteristics or behaviors do you plan to emulate? Please share your comments!