To Become a Leader, Start Acting Like a Leader Today
A lot of the advice about acting like a leader focuses on CEOs, CIOs, and others at lofty levels. But much of this advice is relevant to anyone aspiring to a position of leadership, whether at the team level or as the head of the company.
For example, savvy managers exude executive presence, which is a term used to describe the aura of leadership. Executives with presence come across as self-confident, decisive, and assertive, qualities that are important in making a good and lasting impression. In addition, great leaders tell the truth and act with integrity. They listen with the intent to really hear. And they follow through on their commitments.
It makes sense that if you want to become a leader, you should start to act like a leader—no matter what level you’re at right now. To do that, strive to excel in your current role and every successive role. Seek leadership opportunities by volunteering for new initiatives or taking on problems that others are unwilling to address. Look for ways to help your boss succeed, particularly in terms of the boss’s most pressing priorities. Rather than touting your leadership ambitions, demonstrate your leadership capabilities by what you do.
Not that every CIO demonstrates leadership skills. I’ll never forget the CIO who received some nasty anonymous feedback from someone in his IT department and almost took his anger out on the entire organization. If he had acted on his impulse, he would have damaged his own reputation and sent the already plunging morale even lower.
Behaving as a leader means keeping your cool and taking the high road. There’s also something to be said for straight talk. When delivered sincerely, it has a way of achieving understanding, clarifying issues, solving problems, and building trust.
As Payson Hall has pointed out, effective leadership boils down to a few commonsense principles. Among the most important of the twenty-one tips he offers are these: Recognize and acknowledge both hard work and results. Allow honest mistakes. Learn to delegate. Care about people. Expect no behavior better than you exhibit. And my favorite: Don’t reward one behavior while expecting another. Actually, all twenty-one of his tips are important.
Being a leader at any level isn’t easy. When I first became a manager, I thought it was a plot to kill me. Every time I started to adjust and become comfortable with the role, those in charge of complicating my life threw another challenge at me. But as Dilbert has pointed out, leadership is an opportunity to serve as a model for others. OK, that’s not exactly what he said, but you get the point.