If You Have These 6 Traits, People Will See You as a Leader (Regardless of Your Position)

October 30, 2017

To be seen as a leader at work, you need to embody these qualities.

You don’t need to be in management to be a leader.

Obviously, the CEO of your company and your boss will be seen as leaders, whether they realize it or not. But you, regardless of your role in the organization, can be seen as a leader as well.

And understanding that and acting in that way will be better for your company – and for your own career.

What do you need to do to be seen as a leader, even if aren’t in management? Elizabeth and Lisa Earle McLeod cover this fully in their course, Leading without Formal Authority. But six traits they said you should embody if you want to be seen as a leader are:

1. You actively listen.

People tend to think leading means speaking out. But often, the exact opposite is true.

“I'll let you in on a little hidden secret,” Elizabeth McLeod said. “If you focus on mindful listening, you can garner more authority without saying a word.”

Mindful listening means more than just keeping your mouth shut and nodding. It means really understanding what the person saying, noticing what their body language is telling you and maintaining eye contact. Sounds easy, but it’s something few professionals do.

"Mindful listening helps you sort and frame information and when you do speak, they listen because they know you've taken in everything including – most importantly, their point of view," McLeod said. "If you want to be seen as an authority figure, stop talking, take a break and just listen.”

2. You make your meetings count.

Meetings are where your colleagues get to see you in action. A key to being seen as a leader is to understand that and really make meetings count.

There are two aspects to this. First, it means making the most out of meetings you call. That means only calling a meeting when it’s absolutely necessary, having an agenda for the meeting, keeping people on topic during the meeting and having clear action items after each meeting that you followed up on. 

The second aspect is being active in meetings that you didn’t call or aren’t leading. This means reading the pre-reads ahead of time, actively listening during the meetings, asking relevant questions, sharing any relevant expertise and following through on any action items after the meeting.

“Not all meetings need to be a snoozefest,” Lisa Earle McLeod said. “As an informal leader, you have the opportunity to set the tone. If you're prepared, focused and action-oriented, meeting with your colleagues can be hugely productive.”

3. You proactively find a mentor.

One trait all great leaders share is they focus on developing their own skills. And one of the best ways to do that is to get a mentor, Lisa Earle McLeod said.

The most obvious and easiest person to start with is your boss. But perhaps your boss isn’t someone you’d pick to be your mentor or you’d like another. Then it’s time to look for someone else to be your mentor.

This sounds daunting – how do you convince someone to be your mentor, particularly if they have a far higher position than you? Well, it isn’t really that hard – start by asking them a specific question.

Lisa Earle McLeod shared her own story of a time earlier in her career when she was impressed by a high-profile executive who was running one of the largest news and entertainment platforms in the world. McLeod started by just sending the exec a specific question via email. The exec responded, and then McLeod responded back saying how she implemented the suggestions and asked her if she could periodically ask the exec questions in the future.

The exec agreed and McLeod continued to do so. It led to a lasting relationship, including in-person meetings – she became McLeod's mentor.

Are you looking for a mentor? You can follow the same playbook.

4. You look for root causes, not quick fixes.

When things go wrong, it’s easy to either gloss over the problem or look for a quick-fix. But, if you want to be seen as a leader, you need to transcend that and look for root causes.

This starts with being confident enough to admit a failure, which most people avoid. Next, it means looking beyond how to fix that one situation and rethinking processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“Look for patterns or recurring challenges and rack your brain on how to solve them,” Lisa Earle McLeod said. “This will save you from falling into purely reactive behavior down the road.”

5. When things go wrong, you speak the truth, without casting blame.

There’s a mountain of difference between speaking the truth and casting blame. Speaking the truth means explaining what happened, based off the facts, in an effort to fix it. Casting blame is done to avoid responsibility, which only takes energy away from solving the problem.

“I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes, and it has stood me well in tough times,” Lisa Earle McLeod said. “Edwin Friedman said, ‘In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality, without laying blame. will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.’ During difficult times, you need to think like a leader.”

To get to the truth, you need to actively listen and drill into the numbers to see what went wrong where. By doing this, you can calmly explain where the failings were, and then determine what to fix.

6. You share your passion.

Last but not least, don’t be a robot. Hopefully, you are in a job you are passionate about. Don’t be afraid to share that with your colleagues.

Or, rather than always just throwing out metrics, tell a story. If a new product feature increases sales, don’t just highlight the numbers. Tell the story of why that product feature is making your customer’s lives better, which is leading to increased sales.

To illustrate the point, McLeod gave the example of a person who works for a plumbing distribution company and is looking to get their colleagues to hit their deadlines. Which pitch to their colleagues will work better?

  • “Our customers are depending on us to get these orders out on time.” Or,
  • “I remember hearing about the Jones family in Washington. They had 6-week-old twins when their basement flooded and the wife, Karen, was really, really nervous about the mold and the moisture in their house. And they were living in her mom's basement waiting for their house to be fixed. With both babies and all their stuff in this cramped little room, it put a lot of stress on their new family but because we got those parts there on time, they were able to get back in their house in just two weeks. And they were confident that home was safe for their children. Now there are thousands of families just like the Jones' who are depending on us to get these materials out on time.”

Clearly, the second. Having a passion for your job and then sharing that with your colleagues goes a long way to being seen as a leader.

Want to learn more about how to be seen as a leader at work, even if you don’t have a leadership position? Watch Elizabeth and Lisa Earle McLeod’s full course, Leading without Formal Authority, and learn more leadership tactics and what to do in common work situations. 

Topics