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5 Steps to Being a Leader, No Matter Your Career Level

As you move through your career, your knowledge, confidence and ability to work effectively with others will grow. This will give you the chance to show leadership and shape the culture of your organization. However, you don’t need to wait until you’ve conquered the corner office to show your leadership chops. In fact, wherever you are in your career, no matter how junior in the organization, you can begin to show leadership right now.

Here are five practical steps you can take today to be a leader:

  1. Develop a Coherent Set of Principles and Live by Them

Wise leadership is built on a strong foundation of core values and principles. As Alexander Hamilton wrote, “In matters of taste, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

When you develop your principles, it will help to think of great leaders who were tried and tested and came through with flying colors. What principles can be inferred from their actions? Leaders always show some combination of courage, determination and compassion. The opportunities to show these very same qualities are all around us. At important moments in your career, ask yourself if your action is consistent with your principles and values. If not, don’t do it.

  1. Understand the Mission and Values of Your Organization

A leader works to understand and embody the highest ideals of an organization. These ideals are expressed in the mission statement and other key policies. Think of these as a set of collective principles for the organization. Typically, they will mention things like integrity, respect, fairness and service.

The mission and values of an organization are always aspirational. There is inevitably work to be done to align the organization with its bedrock principles. Indeed, organizations are living, breathing things that constantly need reform and repair. They must adapt and evolve to meet the unique challenges that every time period puts before them or risk irrelevance. Therefore, a leader must seek to understand the mission in the context of the changing needs of the people who work there and the changing needs of the people it serves.

  1. Seek Out Like-Minded Colleagues and Mentors

Anything worth accomplishing in an organization cannot be achieved alone. Leaders seek out mentors and allies who can help them understand the needs of the organization. They work hard to discover where their own goals and the goals of others intersect, providing fertile ground for creative ideas to galvanize a critical mass of their colleagues.

Invest in your colleagues, be interested in their lives, notice and celebrate their successes, be in their corner and fight for them when necessary. Your investment will be repaid a thousand times over. They will support you in your goals, share in your vision, and act as guardrails when your ideas stray from the true needs of the organization.

  1. Be Patient and Persevere

Samuel Johnson wrote that “Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” When you begin to act as a leader, there will inevitably be naysayers who will doubt you. Some of the criticism will be fair and well-intentioned, some won’t be. Therefore, you need to become comfortable with resistance to your ideas and even resistance to you personally. If your ideas are good and you persevere, then your efforts will bear fruit. There will always be resistance along the way, in proportion to how much change your ideas bring to your organization.

A leader works hard to persuade her colleagues, to understand and address any legitimate concerns, but recognizes that not everyone will agree all the time and yet moves forward anyway.

  1. Treat Everyone the Same

The etiquette maven Emily Post defined good manners as “the sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” She added that if you have this awareness, “Tt doesn’t matter which fork you use; you have good manners.” Always treat your colleagues with good manners.

Leaders understand what makes people tick. They understand the universal need hardwired into all of us to feel included and treated fairly. They can bridge divides, smooth ruffled feathers, bring down the temperature in a room and demonstrate in a myriad of other ways their ability to tune into how others feel. As a consequence, leaders are able to channel energy that is misdirected toward anger or resentment back to getting things done that move the organization forward.

A leader understands her own emotions, and those of the people around her. What’s more, if there’s something she can do to help someone feel better, she does it.

As a final word of advice for aspiring leaders, as much as you can, act with good humor and grace no matter the situation. When you encounter difficulties and setbacks, it’s all the more necessary. It’s well to remember the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, “Take your job seriously but never yourself.”

John Burton is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Laura Wilcox

Excellent read! “Invest in your colleagues, be interested in their lives, notice and celebrate their successes, be in their corner and fight for them when necessary.” Such a great reminder that leadership at its core is really all about people.

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

I second what Laura said. These are all things we not only have to remember but actually put into practice every day. At the end of the day, people are impacted by our actions and the things we do and do no do. We can all lead from where we are.