Career Advice

How To Be a Leader at Work

By: Emily Totura
Sep 17, 2021 • 6 min read

How To Be a Leader at Work – Follow These Steps! 

Think back to one of your favorite mentors, teachers, or bosses. What made them so great? They probably had strong listening skills and were able to develop a rapport with almost anyone. But, what other qualities do they do differently that sets them apart from others? Many people would describe a leader as someone that’s assertive, adaptable, and have a lot of diverse experience. Influential leaders at work are positive people who empower those around them. Each leader is different, and all are equally important. In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know about becoming a leader at work.

Understand what your leadership style is

Like many of our favorite leaders, whether it be someone influential in history, a celebrity, or someone that you know personally, each person has a unique approach to leadership. Before you can begin to work on your leadership skills, you need to understand your leadership style.

woman placing sticky notes on wall

Authoritarian

Autocratic leadership is characterized by control over decisions without much input from others. These types of leaders will usually make decisions based on their judgment. It’s not very often that they’ll ask anyone else for their advice or help. Some of the key advantages to this style are that these leaders take less time when making decisions, the chain of command is clearly outlined, and usually, fewer mistakes are made. These kinds of leaders also perform consistently.

These kinds of leaders are often seen in the military, as CEOs, and in correctional facilities, to name a few. However, there still are some disadvantages to this style as these leaders can sometimes be too strict. This can halt creativity and innovation, and it can also reduce collaboration. This could lead to employee rebellion, and thus, increasing the employee turnover rate.

Participative

When you think participative leadership, think democracy. These leaders find it extremely important to include all members in the decision-making process. They want other employees to be engaged in conversations as they feel heard and included. One of the main benefits of this style is that it increases motivation and job satisfaction, which also improves the culture of the work environment. Workers will have their creativity encouraged, and production is usually increased because of this. This creates a strong, resilient team.

However, even though everyone is included in the conversation, sometimes making any decision can take up a lot of time. Additionally, this can also lead to miscommunication and a lack of transparency. If employees aren’t skilled enough, the final decision could end up hurting the team or organization as a whole.

Delegative, or “laissez-faire”

This leader will delegate responsibilities to each member based on their experience. If employees have strong skills and don’t mind working more independently, then this strategy can be very effective. Pros to this style are that each employee who has a strong skill can take advantage of it to increase the quality of results.

This stimulates innovation and creativity, and it typically creates a positive working environment that isn’t stressful. Many times, a leader might not be the most experienced on a team. Instead of trying to figure out what needs to be done, they can rely on other members of the team who have more experience to get the results needed.

However, sometimes these leaders tend to hide in the background. Delegative managers can sometimes give enough work to their employees that they don’t collaborate or even interact much with their team. And while these teams can thrive independently, focusing on individual skills, sometimes it creates a future resistance to change.

Transactional leadership

In this style, the leader will use “transactions,” like rewards, to get tasks done. Each goal is clearly laid out, and the team will know exactly what they need to do in order to get rewarded. This leadership style is best used when there are already routines and protocols established.

This leadership benefits members because their goals are clearly outlined and measurable. Rewards also motivate employees, so they feel encouraged to work more productively. One of the problems that can occur is that innovation and creativity can be limited, and it also tends to create more followers than leaders.

person holding pencil near laptop computer

What can you do each day?

Focus on yourself

People tend to have the false assumption that leaders crave control over everything. Good leaders know that at the end of the day, all you can truly control is yourself. Before you begin to look for any role that requires leadership, you need to assess yourself. Do you have the necessary skills and characteristics that are needed? If you aren’t, that’s okay! However, you still need to be willing to put in the time and effort to work on those skills.

Add more value to your work

When you start to reflect on what skills need improvement, think about which skills will be beneficial to the organization altogether. Maybe your company requires certain training, knowledge, or certifications. Maybe you should consider whether it’s more beneficial to work on your public speaking or writing skills. You have to continuously work on these skills. Your career, company, and self will evolve, so your skills should too. As you take pride in your work, others around you will see it.

Work on emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is when you’re able to understand your emotions to control them. As a leader, you don’t need to possess all of the answers, but you do need to have the ability to try to find answers. Both emotional intelligence and fitness allow you to be ready for anything. With the ability to adapt and from the support from strong coworker relationships, emotional intelligence helps leaders succeed. In times where it’s stressful, workers will go to these leaders as they bring innovation, structure, and sometimes even humor to help the situation.

Improve your self-awareness

Being a leader doesn’t mean that you’re perfect. Rather, leaders have the ability to identify their flaws so they can work on them. You are a brand, just like businesses. Based on your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll develop a “work brand.” For example, if you tend to miss deadlines, you might earn a negative reputation. All good leaders are extremely self-aware. They continuously ask questions about their performance, ask for feedback from who they’re working with, and they’re always professional.

Shift your mindset

If you show up to work and have a negative attitude, you’re sure to have a bad day, and you won’t meet any of your goals. Once you have more self-awareness, you can continue to challenge yourself to grow. Use failure and criticism to drive you—view them as challenges that you can overcome, not as problems that are stopping you. When you take advantage of the skills you have while improving them and acquiring new ones, you’ll have a growth mindset. When you change your mindset, your new abilities might surprise you.

white ceramic mug on table

Be more supportive

Not all leaders are managers, but all leaders are facilitators. Do you help others speak up? Do you acknowledge when someone excels at their work? Leaders know how to guide, but they also know when it’s time to stop talking—this builds trust.

Not only do you need to make sure that you have a rapport with those that you work with, but you also need to make sure that other employees get along and trust one another. Successful leaders understand that people need to be acknowledged for their achievements and that they also need support from the leader when they’re struggling.

Strategically plan your goals

Strong leaders know that while you need to be prepared, you can’t plan for everything. Because of this, your own goals must complement the goals of the team. This means that you should always act strategically. Break down big goals into smaller ones and have set plans—and maybe even a few backup ones—to resolve any problems.

When you’re leading a team, you should ensure that each member sees their potential and has the right tools and resources needed. Someone detail-oriented and quiet will probably perform better gathering data for a report, whereas someone with strong public speaking skills will be better at presenting the report’s findings. Leaders need to identify the strengths of others to guide them accordingly.

Foster innovation

It’s not just CEOs of major companies that possess innovation—we all do. Whether you work for a large company or a local coffee shop, one of the main ways to set yourself apart from competitors is by welcoming and encouraging innovation.

Take on more responsibilities

Once you’ve worked on your skills, it’s time to use them. If you’ve been practicing your email writing skills and noticed that one of your coworkers tends to let emails sit, take the initiative, and tackle emails that need a response. Or, maybe you worked on your interpersonal skills, so you might decide to designate more time each month to check in with employees. Especially if you aren’t in a management role, taking on more responsibilities—no matter how little they may seem—will impress your boss team members.

leader at work

Make sure that you’re in an environment where you can grow

The environment and people that you work with play a huge role in your leadership abilities. Surround yourself with like-minded people who share similar goals as this will encourage you to become a better leader and worker overall. This also can be done outside of work as you can read books, listen to podcasts, or do other activities that will help you manage your goals better.

What you can do each day at work to improve

It’s not shocking that leadership skills improve when they’re used. In recent years, many CEOs have started to invest in leadership development because many of them see it as the biggest problem in their organization. Just like you exercise your body, you also need to do the same for your brain, especially when you want to further develop skills.

 Practice being more conscious

Let’s say you’re anticipating a big meeting where you know several issues could arise. Some of these might be minor and easily agreed upon, but some will be more complicated. When this happens, people don’t always want to speak up and take the lead on an issue. It happens in all meetings, but the key is training yourself so that you’re able to identify these concerns.

When addressing the problem at hand, you have the chance to make a conscious effort to pick which role you think you’ll exceed the most in. Sometimes part of being a leader means you need to sit out once in a while. Ask yourself, can your leadership help your team resolve this problem, or is it better to let others handle it. It’s important to realize that sometimes leaders aren’t always at the center of attention, barking out orders—they know when they need to step in and when they need to back off.

Actively listen to other people

We all have conversations with coworkers, answer emails, and talk to clients each day at work, but do you always actually listen? Sometimes, it can be difficult to hear the perspective of other people, especially in a stressful work environment. Remember that you don’t have to be best friends—or even friends at all—with the people that you work with, but you do have to treat them with respect and professionalism.

So, each day, throughout each of your encounters with others, try to hear what they’re saying without any judgment. It’s not easy at first, but with time, you’ll find that people will trust you more, conversations will be more productive, and your coworkers will want to open up to you.

leader at work

Stop saving it for later

While your resume, education or training, and interviewing skills are important for your career, nothing is as important as your results. If you think your work can improve, think about what you can do? Maybe you’re someone who tends to be bad about answering emails.

While you might not think this is an issue because you answer them eventually, you can mitigate stress and other problems from happening by trying to respond sooner. On the other hand, you might feel like you’ve been given so much responsibility that you’re stretching yourself more than you can handle. When you figure out what your “bottleneck” is, you’ll find that many other problems will dissipate.

Additionally, your boss, along with any other manager, has a lot of work that needs to get done. Because of this, sometimes not everything gets finished as soon as it should be. When you show your manager that you’re a leader and can handle more tasks, they’ll be more inclined to give you more responsibilities and recognition. Each day, assess what you can get done and how you can accomplish this efficiently.

Ask for feedback

Yes, your manager will give you feedback on your performance, but this is standard procedure. If you are confused, speak up and ask your manager to explain more. You should also try to get constant feedback from your coworkers as much as possible. If you want to be a leader, you need to know if other employees are happy with your leadership. It doesn’t always have to be a formal meeting. Throughout the day, you can check in with people and see how they’re doing and what you can do to be of help.

leader at work

Choose yourself as a member

At work, leaders will delegate roles and decide which projects need to be focused on. The first step to becoming a leader is to include yourself, so one way to practice your leadership skills is by stating what role you would like. You still need to be polite and respectful of what the team needs, but you can speak up and share with your coworkers what your strengths are and what you need to meet your potential. It’s hard to become a leader in a group if, from the beginning, you don’t feel included.

Leaders come in all shapes and forms, and no two are the same. You won’t become a leader overnight; rather, it’s a gradual leader. Understand what kind of worker you are now and what kind of leader you want to be in the future. Then, take the necessary steps each day to build your skills. With time, being a leader will become natural, and others will be looking up to you!

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