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3 ways you can be a leader, even when you’re not in charge

By Dr. Alisa Fleming, Assessment Director for the College of Business & Information and the College of Doctoral Studies at University of Phoenix

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed many talented professionals chasing after a promotion because they want the title and authority that comes with it. While a promotion may position you as a leader in your field — and that is, indeed, a wonderful accomplishment — I have found that there is an unfortunate tendency to overlook the opportunity to be a leader in the job you already have.

Taking advantage of leadership opportunities gives you important skill-building and character development experiences that may ultimately help further your career. You can make a meaningful contribution and showcase the types of skills that great leaders use, regardless of title or position.

You can do this through leading by example at every opportunity. Leading by example creates a positive work environment, setting up an open culture where people can be authentic, which builds trust. When you have trust, you form strong relationships. It is actually these relationships — not a job title — that give you influence and the ability to be a great leader.

Leading by example shows others what we expect in how we act and communicate. It shows authenticity, establishes trust and moves people to action. Let’s take a deeper look into what happens when you lead by example and which leadership skills are highlighted in practice.

1. Be authentic

Effective leaders are great communicators with high emotional intelligence. If you want to lead by example, be open and honest above all. Express a genuine interest in the thoughts of others. What you say and do has a profound impact on those around you. When you model authentic interactions and behavior, you build trust.

Leadership skills: Open and honest communication by modeling an authentic desire to connect with others; emotional intelligence by promoting a sense of belonging and mutual respect.

2. Build trust

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. In a working environment without trust, employees may be hesitant to make recommendations or share ideas. Good leaders recognize that trust is key to moving others to act. Let others know you are open to listening to ideas and collaborating on them. Validate the points of view of others. Instead of leaving an interaction feeling defeated and unheard, team members will trust that what they do and say matters. They then feel confident and energized.

Leadership skills: Creating and nurturing strong relationships.

3. Move people to action

When done right, leading by example is infectious. It can inspire team members to perform at their highest levels and replicate the same kind of leadership qualities that are modeled for them.

Leadership skills: Inspiring high performance and professionalism; moving your team to adopt the behavior you model.

Leadership skills are developed through exercising them, much like a muscle. So, power-lift your way to the top by developing the kind of leadership qualities that will contribute to a positive and productive workplace, as well as further your personal career goals. You can do this by seeking opportunities to lead by example right now.

If you are ready for the challenge, ask your manager for a stretch assignment to lead a special project within your team, department, subject-area or in a cross-functional group. Managing a project will give you the chance to assign tasks, identify goals and make sure individuals are hitting deadlines and meeting their targets. Pay close attention to how you communicate and act so that you are leading by example.

If you are not quite ready to lead a team, you can reach out to a mentor, your manager or someone you trust and share your desire to build your leadership skills. Ask them to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Invest in your personal development by taking skills inventory tests and skill building simulations. Read books on effective leadership to give you the body of knowledge you will need when you are ready to start leading by example.

When we lead by example, we show others what we expect of them through how we act and communicate. Remember, it isn’t your title or position—it is your ability to motivate, encourage and inspire others.

Dr. Alisa Fleming is the Assessment Director for the College of Business & Information and the College of Doctoral Studies at University of Phoenix. She holds a doctorate in Business Administration with a concentration in Organizational Leadership, an MBA in Marketing and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism.