Act Like You Are A Leader Before You Are One

What Does It Mean To Go Above And Beyond???

If you want to become a leader, don't wait for the fancy title or the corner office. You can begin to act, think, and communicate like a leader long before that promotion. Even if you're still several levels down and someone else is calling all the shots, there are numerous ways to demonstrate your potential and carve your path to the role you want.

Knock Your Responsibilities Out Of The Park

No matter how big your ambitions, don't let them distract you from excelling in your current role. Focus on the present as much as — or more than — the future. "You still have to deliver results in your day job," says Jen Su. Adds Maignan Wilkins: "You always need to take care of today's business so that nobody — peers, direct reports, or those above you — questions your performance." That's the first step to getting ahead.

  • I would never take on any additional responsibilities without first mastering my current responsibilities. 
  • I also believe in making sure that I am caught up on my current responsibilities and that I must not get behind should I take on additional responsibilities. 

Help Your Boss Succeed

"You have to execute on your boss's priorities too," says Watkins. "Show her that you're willing to pick up the baton on important projects." Maignan Wilkins also suggests you "lean more towards yes than no" whenever your boss asks you to help with something new. Find out what keeps your manager up at night and propose solutions to those problems.

  • I will learn what my boss’ priorities are and I will learn what it is that I can do to allow my supervisor to be successful.   
  • I will take on every new responsibility you give to me as:
    • “Here is an opportunity for me to prove to my boss once again, why they hired me for the position.”
    • “Here is an opportunity for me to prove once again to my boss why I am a valuable member of the department.”  


Seize Leadership Opportunities; No Matter How Small

Make sure your "let me take that on" attitude extends beyond your relationship with your boss. Raise your hand for new initiatives, especially ones that might be visible to those outside your unit. "This will give others a taste of what you'll be like in a more senior role," says Maignan Wilkins. It doesn't have to be an intense, months-long project. It might be something as simple as facilitating a meeting, offering to help with recruiting events, or stepping in to negotiate a conflict between peers. You might find opportunities outside of work, too. You can sit on the board of a local nonprofit or organize your community's volunteer day. "These activities send the signal that you aspire to leadership potential," Watkins says.

  • I am always open to help out in other departments.  Let me give you an example of how I volunteered to help out another department at my prior job.  I was working in the human resource department and the department of diversity and inclusion was going to be at a job fair for the deaf.  I jumped at a chance to volunteer asked specifically if I could and be allowed to attend this event since I have a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education and since I am fluent in American Sign Language. 
  • When I was meeting with the members of those in the office of diversity and inclusion, we were talking about how best to be of service at this event since the members of that department didn’t know sign language they were talking to me all about hiring someone who was deaf and what it would mean for the company in terms of having an interpreter and communication and getting adaptive equipment that someone with a disability might need in order to work at the company.   
  • I took it a step further and I was thinking about it from a deaf job seeker’s point of view.  I decided to type up instructions on how to apply for a job going to the company’s website.  Although I am fluent in American Sign Language I knew that trying to explain to a deaf person how to apply for a job on the company’s website in sign language without the use of a computer would be next to impossible.  I came up with the idea of typing out the step by step instructions on how to apply for a job on the company’s website.  Those instructions were a huge success.   
  • I know if I hadn’t come up with that idea that it would have made it that much harder to be successful and I know in my heart that the instructions that I wrote out made a huge difference in the lives of those deaf job seekers and in their ability to go to the company’s website after they got home to apply for a job. 

Look For The White Space

Another way to prove your potential is to take on projects in the "white space." These are problems that others aren't willing to tackle or don't even know exist. "Every organization has needs that nobody is paying attention to, or people are actively ignoring," Maignan Wilkins says. For example, you might be able to identify a customer need that isn't being met by your company's current product line, and propose a new one. Or you could do a quick analysis of how much a specific change would save the company. When you take on a task that no one else is willing to do, you make yourself stand out.

In my previous job I found several areas that I felt needed to be streamlined.  Let me give you a few examples: 

As an office assistant, I was responsible for handling filing all of the paper work for all of the employees on the corporate payroll.  As such: 

  • Problem:  I noticed a problem of the paperwork of those that recently got hired not being given to me in a reasonable amount of time.  That caused me the problem of my not being able to file the other paperwork that came from payroll and causing me to be backed up in my filing of the employee’s paperwork and making it look like I couldn’t handle my job. 
  • Solution: I created a spreadsheet that included the employee’s name, date of hire, and the date the file was created and then I showed the spreadsheet to my supervisor which gave my supervisor the proof that there was a problem and to request other team members to turn in the paperwork within a two week time period.  
  • Problem: When I went to do the filing, several times the employee’s files weren’t in the file room and was in a co-worker’s office.  The would create a problem for me in terms of my having to take time out of my day to track down who has the file.
  • Solution: If a co-worker needed a file, they could either:
    • Leave a note on my desk,
    • Send me an e-mail saying they have taken the employee’s file, that way I know where the file is
    • They could sign a notebook in the file room saying that they took the employee’s file and to write the date in the notebook. 
  • Problem: When someone changed names or if the employee would sign their name on any paperwork that needed to be turned in with a nick name, or if they had a hyphenated last name and the employee’s signed the document with just their first name and the second part of their last name, then if I didn’t know who the person was, I would have to spend some time trying to look up in the database the name of the person and to find out if they have a former name or if they have a hyphenated last name.
  • Solution: I created a spreadsheet with the person’s first name, their nick-name, abbreviated name, former last name and current last name.


Don't Be A Jerk

There’s a fine line between being ambitious and acting like you're too big for your britches. "Don't try to exert authority when you don't have it," says Watkins. Practice what he calls "steward leadership": focus on what your team wants to accomplish instead of putting yourself first. Jen Su recommends "humble confidence," showing appropriate modesty in your role, while having the self-assurance to know that you will rise to the next level.

  • Let me just reassure you my employer (a.k.a. my customer) that I will never exert any authority where I don’t have it.  In the above point “Look For White Space,” the only reason why I presented a problem and took it upon myself to come up with a solution to the problem is because I truly felt like it was within my “scope of practice” to address problems with possible solutions to the filing system because that was my area that I dealt with every day.  That was my area of expertise. 
  • Let me also promise you that most times I am a follower unless I truly feel like I am the perfect person for the job like the time I volunteered to go to the job fair for the deaf.  That is an area in which I knew I could be of great service for the Diversity and Inclusion department and ultimately for the company.

Be Cautious When Sharing Your Ambitions

It's appropriate to raise your ambitions with your manager if you have a trusting, solid relationship, but frame them in a way that focuses on what's best for the company. Jen Su suggests you lay out your accomplishments for the past year and then ask something like, "As we look further out, where do you see me continuing to make a contribution?" Watkins warns that these conversations shouldn't come off as being all about you. Instead, engage in a two-way conversation with your boss. If you have the kind of boss who may feel threatened by your aspirations, it's better to keep your ambitions quiet and prove your potential.

  • I can promise you, that as an employee that I am very much interested in growing in my current position and ultimately in my career. 
  • I believe in growing first by mastering my primary and secondary responsibilities and then by being able to handle the extra responsibilities that my supervisor gives me.
  • Only after mastering those responsibilities, will I ask to take on more and let me promise you that I will never take on something that I don't feel I can handle. 

Find Role Models

Look for people who have the roles you want and study what they do — how they act, communicate, and dress. "Pick someone at the next level, someone similar to you, and find a way to work with them," says Watkins. Volunteer for a committee they're spearheading or offer to help with one of their pet projects. Identify behaviors that you can emulate while being true to yourself. "You don't want to fake it," says Maignan Wilkins. It might also help to study people who are stuck in their careers as examples of what not to do, Watkins says. Are they clumsy politically? Do they disrespect the lines of authority? Do they fail to make connections between departments?

I am always seeking out the guidance and wisdom of other co-workers supervisors that allow me to grow in a variety of ways.  I look for others who can teach me:

  • A specific skill that might be a weakness for me
  • An area like multi-tasking
  • A particular characteristic like if someone is always upbeat and positive

Build Relationships

There's an old adage, "It's not who you know, it's who knows you." When you're evaluated for a promotion, it's unlikely your boss will sit in a room alone and contemplate your potential. She'll rely on others to assess your ability, which means you need supporters across the organization — people who are aware of the work you're doing. "If you find yourself walking down the hall with the most senior person at your company, be prepared to answer the question, 'So what are you up to?'" Maignan Wilkins says, "Don't take lightly any interactions that may seem informal. Treat every situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the value you bring to the organization and your knowledge of the business."

In terms of building relationships, I believe in:

  • Following through on one’s commitments,
  • Being held accountable especially if I make a mistake, I will own up to it immediately.
  • I believe in supporting one another during good times and bad.  I am more than glad to show support for my co-workers when they accomplish a goal or get a promotion or even something as simple as when they finish a project that they were working on. 
  • I also believe in getting feedback from my co-workers in terms of if there is anything I can do differently to improve or if there is anything they need my help on. 
  • When there is a responsibility that takes team effort, I believe in pulling my own weight and doing whatever is necessary for the team.