Leadership in the workplace roles are generally earned, which sometimes leaves young career professionals wondering how they can build leadership experience to gain such a role. It’s that old adage – if I’m required to have leadership experience for a leadership role, and I can’t get a leadership role without leadership experience, how do I get leadership experience?
Well, there are six ways you can demonstrate leadership to earn a leadership role:
Inspire and Encourage Others
John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire other to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” There is great truth in these words. Think about it – if you encourage someone or inspire them, then you are, in fact, leading them toward something. For example, if a colleague is hesitant to apply for a new position, and you encourage them to apply, and then help them to apply, prepare for the interview, etc., then you are encouraging them to further their career – this is leadership!
Be a Lifelong Learner
John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Kennedy, like many of this country’s presidents spent many hours a day reading and learning about a wide variety of topics. Brian Evans, in an article in INC.com entitled, “Most CEOs Read a Book a Week: This is How You Can Too,” reports CEOs read four-to-five books a month or a book a week. CEOs and other executives read to learn and so should you. The more you read, the more you will learn about about a specific industry, about trailblazers, or even to develop an historical context about a given event or topic, etc. When you build your knowledge base, people will look to you for answers – this is leadership!
Ken Blanchard, an influential speaker, author, and business consultant said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” No one wants to be led by someone who wields their power through force; instead, people want to make their own decisions. Blanchard suggests that leaders use their political capital, knowledge, and interpersonal skills to influence others to act in a certain way. When you sit in meetings, don’t remain silent. Speak up and use your knowledge, contacts, and persuasion skills to influence decision making – this is leadership!
Chuck Sacco, the Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives at the Charles Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University said, “Entrepreneurship is critical to the long-term success of our economy and entrepreneurs are increasingly necessary to ensure a great future. New ideas, new markets and new business models are what will help continue to improve standards of living and provide more opportunities for employment and success.” Beyond thinking outside the box, let your creativity flow and embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and if you don’t have one, then find it. Brene Brown argues, "There is no innovation and creativity without failure." But what does this really mean? Well, it means being willing take risks as well as dust off your pants after failure to try again. And then try yet again. Look at failure as part of the journey to success. The willingness to fail in order to move forward – this is leadership!
Lead by Example
Stan Slap, founder of SLAP – a management counseling firm said, “Instead of waiting for a leader you can believe in, try this: Become a leader you can believe in.” Be the person who will stand up for those who cannot. Be the person who makes room at the table for others – even if it is only the lunch table. Be the person who shares the credit. Be the person who stops to say, “You know you did a really great job with your presentation last week.” The saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” well, this also applies to leadership, envision the type of leader you admire and take on, or develop, those qualities you respect and be that person – this is leadership!
Lee Iacocca said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Communication has been an under-rated skill that has finally been recognized as an essential skill for leaders. Those who cannot communicate effectively leave themselves and their teams open to huge problems. Hone your communication skills by ensuring you write clear and concise emails, speak honestly and clearly with colleagues at all levels, be respectful, and always think about how what you are about to say or write will be interpreted. If you are unsure about your communication skills, ask someone above you for their thoughts. If there is room for improvement, then take a class or find a mentor. Communicating your ideas, concerns, or praise effectively – this is leadership!
None of these approaches alone will catapult you into a leadership position, but actively and intentionally developing these approaches will elevate you, which puts you in a position to be noticed by leadership, all of which make you more attractive.
If applying for a leadership position without any formal leadership experience, then use experiences from these approaches with corresponding key words in your resume or cover letter such as "ignited, convinced, motivated, revitalized, optimized, reduced or increased, shaped, advocated, or united" to attract hiring managers.
Finally, keep in mind that moving into a leadership role is also about your mindset. Acting like a leader, makes others see you as a leader!
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Note: Quotes about leadership found in the following sources: