Kurt Jacobson, a mentor of mine, believes the best way to grow professionally is to discus the lessons and skills you learn on a weekly, or even daily basis. He often covers the topic of how professional and academic experiences differ: In school, professors teach how to do things, but in a professional atmosphere you learn how things get done. To prove this point he sent me an article by Art Petty “Leadership Caffeine: Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told me When I First Became a Leader” and wrote me a note:
“Even as an intern and a college student observing and practicing leadership skills is helpful. You seem to have a leadership drive. Interestingly, most people don’t feel comfortable or want to be leaders. As I have said before, knowing how to do things will get you the job, whatever the job. But, it’s how things get done that will help you be a leader.” –Kurt Jacobson, JayRay, a communications consultancy
Question: How can you position yourself as a leader if you’re not in a leadership role (e.g. an intern)?
Just because you are not an executive in a company does not mean that positioning yourself as a leader is off limits. Stepping outside of the classroom and into the office building can be intimidating, but don’t let that be your weakness. Your first “real” job can offer you the chance to position yourself as a powerful influence and key player.
In order to become an asset to a company you have to demonstrate a level of confidence that exudes leadership. Taking a leadership role is easier to come by if you have an outgoing, charismatic personality, but that is not essential. What is essential, however, is that people trust you and are inspired by your vision.
Being a 20-something female with determination, passion and excitement for what’s ahead, I was drawn to an article in Forbes Women titled “Learning to be a Leader.” It talks about Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimptom Hotels, and her struggles to become a strong, female leader in a male-dominated department.
Leondakis says, “I could have accountability and tough-mindedness and still be compassionate, I could be successful and effective and still be me.” She describes her current leadership style as inclusive; a key word that frequently comes up in discussions about female leadership. The article suggests that women tend to be relational while men tend to be transactional. I agree with the article, which argues that in today’s society there is a greater need to build relationships. This means that those leadership roles are begging females to fill them.
I will leave you with some tips that Forbes Women argues will sharpen your leadership skills:
Determine what your personality and motives for your behavior are so you can begin to influence other people—after all that is what you are trying to accomplish as a leader.
Make Sure Your Values Align
To be successful at leading, it is imperative to believe in the company you work for and what it stands for. Practice what you preach because most people don’t respond well to a hypocrite. If you are confident in yourself and in the company’s mission, people will take notice, latch on to your ideas, and follow your example.
Pay attention to how your company identifies success
Keep your eyes and ears open; observe how others take on leadership roles and try to take note of who is being rewarded and why. Don’t necessarily copy what they do, but learn from them and try to adapt a piece or portion of how they lead and come up with your own version.
“Women typically communicate ideas through examples and anecdotes, according to organizational development consultant Joni Daniels. If you’re having trouble getting your point across this way, try to ask questions in order to initiate a dialogue with colleagues.”
But don’t ask about “feelings”
Instead of asking your team how they feel about something, ask for their reactions, thoughts or observations. People tend to respond differently when they hear the word “feelings.” Instead, by asking for their reactions or thoughts you are more likely to get an honest response.
“The most successful team or organization combines the stereotypical male and female traits,” Leondakis says. “You need that balance of the male and female energy.” Pay attention to your co-workers’ styles; choose team members that will complement you and try to adapt to complement them.
Listen to your team but don’t be afraid to make a decision
Women typically seek a consensual agreement from their teams, even if they know what decision they are going to make from the start. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut or stand up for your choices even if you can’t get everyone on board.
What is a Gen-Y Leader? by Tyler J. Durbin
What Gives You the Right to be a Young Leader? By Rebecca Thorman
What Makes a Dynamic Leader? By Larraine Segil