June 4, 2015 — I graduated from college nearly three years ago and subsequently entered what is commonly called “the real world.” Up until this point in my life, the “leader” in any given situation had always been obvious. It was the person with the title, the ultimate responsibility, the power. And I was used to being the leader, from “Table Chief” in grade school to captain of the cross-country team in high school to president of my college’s women in business group.
After being thrust into the workforce post-college, I quickly found that the definition of leader in the real world wasn’t so different from what I’d been used to. It was still the person with the title, the ultimate responsibility, the power. But there are a few key differences: there were fewer leaders than I was used to and fewer opportunities for those who wanted to lead. It took longer to land those roles. And, let’s face it, the process of getting there didn’t always feel fair.
However, as I continue to grow in my career, I’ve learned not to discount the leadership contributions of those who, like myself, are not the CEO, not in executive leadership positions, and not considered “management.” Catalyst research shows that by expanding our definition of leadership, we can tap into the impact entry-level employees can make within their workplaces. Here are five ways to show you’ve got what it takes—regardless of your title:
Do great work. Your mantra should be “lead by example.” Leaders are individuals who are trustworthy, reliable, and consistently perform at the highest level. Execute your assignments flawlessly—you will quickly stand out as a great team member with serious leadership abilities.
Assist others. The best leaders build strong, cohesive teams. As an entry-level employee, the ability to form friendships as well as great professional relationships with your colleagues, including those who are senior to you, is a skill that can help increase your effectiveness at work. It can also help you develop the ability to mentor and sponsor others, which will become even more important as you advance in your career.
Use your influence. Don’t underestimate the power of motivating your team. The ability to inspire passion is a trait organizations work very hard to find. Entry-level employees who can empower and stir their teams without being the boss often wield more power than those with the title.
Work outside the box. Depending on your company, your ability to expand your own role without a formal promotion may be minimal. Larger firms tend to be hierarchical, with regimented career paths. If this sounds familiar, check out other organizations in your community and figure out how you can contribute. Choose an organization or cause you truly care about! Taking on greater responsibilities and raising your profile externally can help advance your career within your organization as well.
Promote yourself. Leaders know when to recognize and endorse themselves. Be an advocate for YOU and your (great) work! Knowing the appropriate time to make others aware of your unique contributions, as well as your broader professional goals, is the best way to gain support for yourself and the incredible team you’ve helped to build.
The C-suite may seem distant now, but you’re probably already cultivating the ability to lead both within and outside of your organization. If you identify the leadership qualities you already have and work to hone them, you’ll have more responsibility, power, and influence in no time—and one day you’ll have a title to match.