“Siri – define leadership in the workplace.”
Leadership in today’s workplace. Defining leadership. Leadership definition explained. What is leadership.
Siri raises an excellent point here – when it comes to the workplace, there isn’t a one size fits all answer.
Professionally, leadership can appear in all forms and be demonstrated across a spectrum of styles. There’s the:
Extroverted leader - the one that serves as the face of a new project and drives the operation in creating and revealing that project.
Unsung leader – the one that is willing to stay up later into the night every so often to make sure there are no errors or defects for your big project reveal.
Selfless leader – the one that’s willing to step up to the plate and take on another task when no one else will (all without looking for the glamor)
Neville Longbottom* leader – the shy/introverted one that is willing to say the unspoken thing when no one else will
*From Harry Potter #1 - before Harry and team go to find the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not the Neville Longbottom from the Deathly Hollows.
Not this Neville.
When it comes to the workplace, it can be frustrating and sometimes unclear just how exactly you can portray your leadership without being the extroverted leader. Some options can be more difficult in nature, like proving your ability to take on new tasks outside of your normal workload. While others, a bit more black and white, revolve around empowering your colleagues through knowledge transfers and mentorship opportunities. As we explore what truly makes a “great” leader, just remember that there are endless ways to convey your ability to contribute to your organization, your growth, and your teammates around you.
That said, below are 5 ways to improve your leadership in the workplace that fall outside of the more known extroverted leader path.
1. Get Outside of Your Comfort Zone (and take on a new responsibility/task)
Getting outside of your comfort zone is well, uncomfortable. The very nature of this state forces you to operate at a new level, one that may not be within your current skillset or repertoire of how you’ve gotten tasks accomplished in the past.
A simple choice for the majority of professionals is to stay comfortable with what you know and what you’re working on. Though stepping outside of your comfort zone is where the most growth can occur both professionally and personally. Often times we have to be at our most vulnerable to allow changes to sink in and to shift how we operate and to take on something challenging.
Your ability to enter this realm as a professional and take on a new responsibility will convey willingness to handle adversity and a new challenge. As a general tip, be strategic about what you take on. For example, as a software product manager, you wouldn’t suddenly take on a full stack engineering (aka a software coder) responsibility if you had no previous coding experience and were faced with pressing project timelines. Make sure these tasks that you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone for fall within some relatable range of your job. Taking on something new in that realm will convey your ability to drive your professional growth with a growth mindset and as a resource that is willing to step up to the plate when needed.
2. Take a Proactive Approach with your Feedback
Performance reviews can be a scary topic if you leave feedback sessions to once a year and without a plan of action. In addition to taking the initiative to make feedback sessions more consistent, take a proactive approach to how you manage and grow from your feedback.
While your manager will provide suggested improvement areas, it will be your responsibility to show your incremental growth from week to week and the steps that you’re taking to drive improvement. Want to demonstrate some initiative? Come prepared to your next feedback session with updates on how you’ve addressed those feedback areas and what you’re continued plan of action will be moving forward.
Your ability to create actionable plans with tangible steps for your feedback areas will convey maturity and emotional intelligence as a leader that takes improvement seriously and has a strong desire to drive growth within their current role.
Additionally, feedback also gives every worker the opportunity to be the Neville Longbottom leader – don’t be afraid to provide upward feedback to your manager too. After all, as human beings, there are always new working areas that we can learn and improve on. As much as your manager may be developing you, there are always ways that we can provide the unspoken things to benefit them as well. Doing so further demonstrates your leadership in the people development aspect of your day to day. Speaking of people development.
3. Take on Mentorship Opportunities
I see this quote tossed around often – “you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with”.
I’m a firm believer in this quote and throughout my career I was fortune enough to have incredible mentors who were willing to invest in my growth. It was because of this that I had a strong desire to pay it forward to those around me. As you grow professionally, an important leadership trait is to not only develop yourself but to also develop those around you too. One way to convey your leadership and commitment to professional growth for other teammates and colleagues is through mentorship opportunities.
In your next conversation or feedback session with your manager, indicate that you’re interested in mentoring 1-2 younger team members to help them from a knowledge and professional growth standpoint. If your company doesn’t already have an official program like this, then you can make it an unofficial program, or you could take it a step further to take the initiative on your own and set a mentorship program up. (I’d recommend this by sending out a survey to your team and first gauge interest of who would be interested before pairing senior and junior level team members).
Leadership styles and values will vary from professional to professional. Though, a common denominator should be your ability and desire to develop the talent around you. Taking on a mentee (or mentees) will help you to do just that.
4. Lead a Lunch and Learn
As noted above, an important leadership trait for any professional is the ability to empower and support your teammates around you. While mentorship opportunities are a staple, another route for empowerment and leadership can be education based. One option with high visibility from your colleagues and management can be in the form of a Lunch and Learn series.
A lunch and learn is an education-based training where one person will share information on any topic of their choice during an allotted lunch time. If public speaking isn’t your thing, then you can also use this as an opportunity to also push yourself outside of your comfort zone for improved public speaking skills.
Use a Lunch and Learn to share something of value to your colleagues. Talk about your subject matter expertise within your role, your part of the business that teammates should know about, and what you’re working on within the company. What would your teammates want to walk away with that would add value upon returning to their day?
Empower your colleagues not only with something interesting about your function of the company that they may not had been aware of but with some helpful information that they can use moving forward to connect the dots across the organization and how your function of the business impacts the broader organization. Who knows, you may even have a teammate who now includes you in their communications knowing that you’re an important part of their professional world.
5. Drive a Team Building Activity
Taking the initiative is an easy way to get some recognition and show your ability for being a self-starter. What better way to take the initiative then in a team building setting? Try planning a happy hour or a small scale social impact event with your team for after work. While this isn’t an immediate value add to what you may be doing professionally or from a “grow the business” perspective, it will convey your ability to want to add and contribute to a company’s team culture. What’s a company without a healthy culture anyway?
Remember that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Look for quick wins where you can convey your ability to empower your colleagues, show your growth in feedback opportunities, drive team building activities, and even get outside of your comfort zone for taking on challenging new tasks.
Moreover, not every opportunity has to be that one that gives you the most face time. Whether you’re striving for the Extroverted Leader or are more of the Selfless or Neville Longbottom Leader type, there are a myriad of ways to convey leadership looks like in your career. Leverage some of the suggested areas listed above to continue to drive your professional growth and leadership skills.