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How To Be A Leader In The Workplace

Female business leader conducting a meeting

Some people are born leaders, instinctively stepping in to take charge during moments of crisis, making tough decisions under pressure, and providing guidance to those with less knowledge or experience. But leadership isn’t solely an inherited trait–it can be learned and refined with practice, too. 

Being a leader in the workplace can serve you well in your career. When you have a reputation for being able to lead, it opens the door to new opportunities, which bring more responsibility, greater autonomy, and higher pay. 

Being a leader can also be incredibly rewarding, giving you a chance to do work that’s meaningful to you and make a lasting impact. As a leader, you’ll play a big role in inspiring the next generation, helping others to be the best they can be, and maybe even changing a few lives along the way.

So how can you be a leader even if it doesn’t come naturally? Like anything, it takes consistent effort, but with a bit of practice leadership skills will become second nature and you’ll find yourself more and more comfortable in the role. 

Strengthen Your Leadership Abilities With These Strategies

Be a mentor

The best leaders aren’t merely concerned with advancing their own interests. They lift others up with them. They don’t just give instructions, but model the behavior they want others to follow. 

If you’ve got a few years at your job under your belt, be a mentor to your newer colleagues. Look for opportunities to give constructive feedback that will help them succeed, not just in the role they were hired for but in their career as a whole. For those who seem interested in establishing a closer relationship, you might add structure by having regularly scheduled check-ins or coffee meetings. 

Being able to guide and help others is a trademark skill of a leader and one that can be honed through mentoring. 

Related: Benefits of Having A Career Mentor 

Take courses

If you’ve never taken a leadership training course, it’s well worth looking into. A formal training program can teach you the essential skills you’ll need to navigate challenges from the vantage point of a leader and allow you to put new leadership strategies into action. 

If you’re new to leading, taking a course can give you more confidence in your abilities and improve your decision-making. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who can share valuable experiences and lessons learned to help you grow. 

Ask for feedback

Even natural-born leaders can learn something from those with more experience. What’s more, a smart leader recognizes the limits of their own knowledge and knows when to ask for help. To become the best leader you can be, zero in on a few trusted individuals whose leadership style you admire and ask for their feedback. 

Asking for this kind of coaching works best if you give people a bit of time to think about it and gather their responses rather than springing the question on them in the moment. Explain why you’re asking–that you’re looking to become a better leader at work–and mention any other factors that might help them narrow their feedback, like if you’re aiming to be promoted or are about to take the reins on an important project. 

If you can, meet in person to receive their feedback and be sure to receive it graciously. Remember–you can’t improve your leadership skills if you don’t know where they’re lacking. 

Do the right thing

Your reputation is something you build over the course of your career, but it only takes an instant to tear it down. Protect it by always doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

As one old saying goes, ‘a manager does things right. A leader does the right thing.’ Can you differentiate between the two? Sometimes, doing the right thing brings no tangible benefit to you or your company. In some cases, it may even do some damage. But in the long run, the action that aligns with your principles and ethics is always the better move. 

When you have a reputation for integrity, people are inclined to trust you. When you’re trusted, people have faith in your decisions and it’s easier to lead them. By doing the right thing time and time again, you’ll establish the kind of integrity that separates those who merely hold the title of manager and those who others truly want to follow. 

Empower others

Leaders inspire others to act. Ironically, though, when they attempt to force others to act, that’s when leaders fail. Leading isn’t about forcing those beneath you to bend to your will. Instead, it’s about giving them the resources and encouragement they need to see your vision and become so invested in it themselves that they take action. 

Great leaders understand people–what makes them tick, why they do what they do, and what will inspire them. Sometimes these things are different for every person, which means it’s not an easy skill to acquire. If you’re able to master it, though, you’ll have the power to motivate and mobilize others to work toward a common goal, even if the work is difficult and the road to get there is long. At work, this might mean inspiring your team to complete a stretch goal, pushing to meet a tight deadline, or even acting as the catalyst for a major organizational change. 

Don’t be afraid of failure

Along the path to Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson stumbled with the dud that was Virgin Cola. Oprah Winfrey landed a coveted co-anchor spot on her first primetime news show only to be given the boot shortly after. All great leaders experience failure, and the bigger the leader, the bigger the blunder can be. 

There isn’t a leader in the world who makes the right call on every single decision or accomplishes every goal they set out to achieve. The thing that sets lasting leaders apart is that they embrace failure as part of the process and don’t let it stop them from making big moves. 

In the workplace, this might mean taking charge of a complex project that others are shying away from or suggesting an offbeat idea that would be risky to try but could pay off in a major way.