You’re not the big boss. You’re not even middle management. So developing some serious leadership skills isn’t exactly on today’s to-do list — but that’s a big mistake. “We can all be leaders, no matter what our official title is,” says executive coach Karen Elizaga, author of Find Your Sweet Spot. “Groups, irrespective of level within a company, need people to move projects along, take ownership and solve problems. And importantly, from a career trajectory standpoint, when you exhibit leadership skills, you become a prime candidate to actually be that leader. You show people that you’re ready and willing to move up to the front of the line.”
If you’ve changed your mind and you’re ready to lead the work troops by example, here’s how, according to our career experts.
1. Trust your coworkers.
As career coach Hallie Crawford points out, “a successful leader—or employee—has to trust other people to get their part of the job done.” That’s because, in part, “doing everything yourself doesn’t promote creativity and doesn’t empower others to learn new things—and it actually increases stress,” she says. Who knew? So, let coworkers do their thing, Crawford suggests, and “only check in on a task when absolutely necessary or before passing it along to a client to ensure it’s correct. Don’t hover.”
2. Clearly and concisely express yourself.
Just because you’re not in a workplace leadership role doesn’t mean you should sit silently through meetings. “Some think that it’s enough to produce an excellent work product,” says Elizaga. But it’s not. “The ability to advocate your position or opinion puts you in the spotlight,” she says. That’s because expressing yourself to your peers and employer “illustrates your ability to process challenges, problem solve, and create meaningful resolutions to move forward. If you keep these thoughts to yourself, no one will ever know.” And you may just miss out on a chance to move up.
3. Mentor others.
You probably have a mentor. (If not, get one—now!) But even if you’re still learning, you can be an asset to others in your field. “In any position, be available to help your fellow coworkers by providing feedback,” says Crawford. How? Here’s an easy way: Ask yourself if there’s something you excel at. “If so, don’t keep the knowledge to yourself,” Crawford says. “Be willing to share what you know with your coworkers.” Your team—and very likely, your boss—will appreciate your communal know-how.
4. Take constructive feedback.
Calmly listening to what you’ve done wrong or how you can improve probably may make you feel like more of a misfit than a leader. But learning to take constructive criticism well is actually a crucial leadership skill every employee should master, Elizaga says. “No one is perfect, and we can all benefit from someone’s perspective on our performance so that we can continue to strive for excellence,” she says. “And making a tangible change after receiving—sometimes tough—feedback shows your boss and colleagues that you can listen, your ego is not too big to take into account other opinions, and you can bend and flow for the benefit of the organization.”
5. Dress your best.
It may be perfectly acceptable to show up to your office in jeans. (Many an industry is going the uber-casual these days.) But even if you can get away with wearing a T-shirt and shorts to work, resist the urge to be comfortable and instead, dress like a boss, says Crawford. It may be a good way to get yourself noticed by the higher-ups, but this is also a move you should make for yourself. “Dressing your best—someone who cares about the image they project—will not only help you feel more confident but also will help you build your brand as a professional,” Crawford says.
6. Keep your emotions in check.
Let’s be honest: It can be tough to keep our cool at work. “Sometimes emotions flare, conversations get heated—and as a result, productivity falls off a cliff,” says Elizaga. But, if you can keep calm and carry on with work, rather than give in to an outburst, “your ability to stay rational and reasonable even in the face of others’ emotional issues will show others that you can consistently remain cool-headed and forward-focused,” she says. “Moreover, when you can remain calm and encourage others to do the same, you lead the way to continued productivity.” And then everyone wins.