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

August 12, 2019

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 within the organization.

There are many ways to demonstrate leadership and potential for growth in your organization. Elizabeth and Lisa Earle McLeod cover it fully in Leading without Formal Authority.

Here are 6 ways to ensure people see you as a leader:

1. Actively listen to colleagues.

People tend to think leading means speaking out. But sometimes, the 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 is sometimes considered the 'smile and nod' tactic, but it's more than that. Mindful listening means focusing on what's being communicated, reading their body language, and maintaining eye contact. This may sound intuitive, but mindful listening requires conscious focus on what an individual is saying and how it's being delivered. 

"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. Make Meetings Count.

Meetings are an opportunity for colleagues to see you in action. A key to being seen as a leader is to make the most of your time in a meeting, whether you are leading or attending.

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

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

“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. Identify and pursue mentorship.

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 want to expand your skillset and seek a mentor to help you do that. But how?

It sounds daunting – how do you convince someone to be your mentor, particularly if they seem hard to approach due to your level of access to them or their seniority? Start by asking this person a specific question.

Lisa Earle McLeod shared her own story of a time early in her career when she turned a high-profile executive into her mentor. McLeod started by sending the exec a specific question via email. The exec responded with advice. McLeod later followed up relaying how the situation played out after implementing the advice, and asked the exec if she could continue to periodically ask questions in the future.

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

Are you looking for a mentor? Try a similar approach!

4. Look for root causes, not quick fixes.

When things go wrong, it can be tempting to either gloss over the problem or look for a quick fix. But, if you want to be seen as a leader, it's important to confront the situation directly and identify root causes.

This often starts by being confident enough to admit a failure, which can be tough. 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, speak the truth, without casting blame.

Speaking the truth and casting blame can feel like close cousins. It's important to lean into fact finding and not place blame. Speaking the truth means explaining what happened in an effort to fix it. Casting blame is done to avoid responsibility, which only takes energy away from solving the problem.

Lisa Earle McLeod shares a quote by Edwin Friedman that has helped her in tough times: "In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality, without laying blame, will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not."

To get to the truth, it's important to actively listen, look to processes to see what led to the breakdown. This can help you explain what happened factually, and then determine what to fix.

6. You share your passion.

Passion is contageous. If you are passionate about your work, share it! 

There are many ways to incorporate passion into the way you show up at work. One of those is storytelling. For example, if a new product feature increases sales, you could highlight the metrics that indicate this change. But it may be more impactful if you tell the story incorporating the data that covers how the product feature is impacting lives.

To illustrate the point, McLeod gives the example of someone working for a plumbing distribution company who wants to encourage their colleagues to hit their deadlines. Which pitch do you think 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 thier 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.”

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 how to be seen as a leader, even without a leadership position? Watch Elizabeth and Lisa Earle McLeod’s full course, Leading without Formal Authority, today.

 Check out other LinkedIn Learning courses to help you excel as a leader in your organization: