So many of my blog posts, and my hours as a corporate leader, have focused on helping employees obtain a promotion (especially to a management position). Most employees become fixated on career progression as measured by upward movement. I cannot deny that, I too, may succumb to that from time to time. That said, I feel strongly that, if you have a strong leadership traits, you will naturally rise up in an organization. And that, if you focus on cultivating those leadership traits, you won’t be spending your time preparing to be a manager; you will become one and succeed naturally because you invested time to build a strong foundation of leadership.
The focus of this post will be on the top 4 Leadership Traits (according to Mrs. Type A). I’ll go one step further and share how to improve those Leadership Traits so that you can position yourself for long-term professional growth!
How to Improve the Top 4 Leadership Traits
In this section, I will list each of the Top 4 Leadership Traits, define what it means, and then share how to improve on that leadership trait. When I refer to a Leader, it means a person who possess leadership traits (he/she may not actually have a leadership position).
OK, so with that out of the way, here are the 4 Leadership Traits…
1. Challenge the status quo
Leaders do not just do things because “that’s how they are done” or “other people do it that way.” Leaders are independent thinkers who critically assess the business and the organization. They don’t stop at “good enough.” Instead, the best leaders look at what may hinder future success and, as a result, they tend to challenge the status quo.
Ok, Mrs. Type A, easier said than done. How do I challenge the status quo?
Well, in one word: carefully. In most organizations, it won’t go over well if you’re just walking around telling everyone what they’re doing needs to change. No, that behavior likely falls into the “Career Killer” bucket.
In terms of actionable advice, I would suggest you challenge yourself to raise one suggestion in every department meeting (or similar venue), or once a month in your standing meetings with your boss. For example, you may think that the method your company uses to send information to customers is antiquated and should move to more mobile / text. You may consider asking your boss / department leader if the company should be going that route.
Just a gentle word of caution when making suggestions. You don’t want to sound condescending. I always find asking “how might we” questions are powerful in this situation. Instead of making a statement about the need to change the customer communication, you may instead say, “How may we ensure we are evolving with our customers’ changing communication tools?” It’s subtle but encourage more discussion.
The reason I advocate that you set a goal to do it regularly is in order to build the critical thinking/status quo challenging muscle memory. Over time, you will do it more naturally and the goal will no longer be necessary.
2. Consistently have an impact
Leaders continuously change the course of the direction of an organization, a team, or a conversation. If you sat in a meeting and nothing changed because of your contributions, you were not a Leader. You may have made great effort in the meeting, even organized and prepared materials for it. But, if the outcome wasn’t different because you sat in the room, then you need to improve your impact.
How do I do that?!
Well, you need to speak up. Certainly challenging the status quo is part of that (see #1). However, if you’re still building that skill, then you may consider other ways to have an impact. For example, you can be a connector, connecting two people with similar issues or questions. Or if one person is an expert at something that someone else is struggling with, you can connect them. If you’re in a meeting, you can connect two points that people are making to further build an argument for a specific path forward (or point out how two people are disagreeing).
Alternatively, you can be a source of positivity. If work is really stressful, and you are encouraging and supportive to colleagues, you could impact their mindset. Happy coworkers will definitely improve morale and, potentially, business results. That is a great impact!
3. Ability to influence others
Through their thoughts and actions, Leaders influence the mindset and behavor of others. In other words, Leaders have followers (shocking, I know!).
Leaders motivate people, and get people excited about what they’re doing and/or encourages them to embrace a change in what they’re doing.
How can you influence others?
I should probably focus a whole post on this! There are a lot of ways to approach this. But a lot of it comes down to a personal connection; if people feel personally connected to you and they’re inspired by you…you will be able to influence them (at least more so than if you weren’t connected).
Invest in learning about the people you work with and what interests and motivates them. In fact, if you just meet with your colleagues and ask them about themselves all day long, you will be a very loved person. Everyone wants to talk about themselves and their interests! So they will love being in your company if you ask questions about themselves. They will like to be around you, and will be more likely to be influenced by what you share with them.
You will also need to have strong communication and social skills. No one will want to share their interests with you if you are rude, or not easy to talk to!
This great article by a site I really respect, Cleverism, has an interesting perspective on being inspirational (see tip #19). Essentially the article advocates for being positive, and a source of inspiration in order to influence others. Great advice!
Leaders do not quit. Period.
Do they fail?
Do they fail big time?
Do they quit?
Are we clear? Ok, next…
Alright, I’ll elaborate a bit more…
Leaders don’t look at failures as fatal flaws, but rather a bump along the road to the next success.
How can you improve persistence?
Never give up??? I’m not sure what else to say?
In general, I think Leaders have an underlying confidence that they will prevail. They have a growth mindset that looks at the learning that comes from challenges. If you experience a setback at work, I encourage you to look at what you’ve learned and commit to what you will change. That behavior will serve you well on your path to leadership.
In conclusion, I advocate that, while promotions are important, you should focus your effort on cultivating strength on the 4 key Leadership Traits. Even if they didn’t help your career trajectory, doesn’t it feel more exciting to be a creative thinker that challenges the status quo, leaves a lasting impact, influences others, and never gives in?
I’d love to her your perspective on the key leadership traits and what you do to improve them in the comments!
If you liked this post, be sure to check out:
- Career Advice I Would Give Myself As a New Professional
- How to Speak Up at Work
- The 3 Mantras That Will Make You a Great Manager
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