A promotion is one form of recognition, but it does not inherently make you a leader. Neither does being a manager. Or coming in early, getting facetime with the C-suite, crushing your KPIs, or having “lead” in your title.
Many “leads” do not lead and many people without the title do. While promotional milestones can signify leadership, they don’t by default.
The career ladder plagues nearly every type of workplace, from structured corporate environments to the nebulous world of startups.
The truth is that success is not linear, and your career path is unlikely to be either.
When you take away the pressure of climbing the ladder, you give yourself room to experiment, explore, and develop both personally and professionally. Most importantly, you open the door to leadership opportunities outside of simply getting a promotion.
To truly step into a leadership role, you have to be willing to speak your mind, push back, and ask tough questions. If the sound of that makes your palms sweat, fear not. You don’t need to be outspoken, loud, or “pushy” to share your ideas. You just need to be willing to get a little uncomfortable, at least at first.
The best leaders ask good questions — of both themselves and others. They don’t do anything just because “it’s the way it’s always been done.” And they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers to create change and move forward.
On a very basic level, being a leader is about your relation to other people within an organization. It’s impossible to lead while flying solo — your connection with your team defines you as a leader.
So, a surefire way to develop and demonstrate your leadership skills is to stop thinking so much about what you need to do to get to that next step, and start thinking about how you can help others reach their potential.
Good leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers, and they’re not afraid to address their weaknesses. Acknowledging and revealing your blind spots does not make you unfit or inept. It makes you human and accessible. Know when you need help, and ask for it. Own up to your mistakes, promptly and publicly.
If you want to get a head start on leadership, practice vulnerability. It pairs well with confidence, self-awareness, and sincerity.
Leadership exists in so many forms — and it doesn’t require a fancy title, a lofty pay raise, or even permission.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you when it’s time to be a leader. You have the tools you need to practice within your role right now.
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