I used to believe that being able to take action to get things done required authority – official, delegated authority that meant you were in charge and could take charge. It was only after seeing how different people without formal authority could make things happen that I recognized how influencing skills are as important as, and perhaps more effective than, a title. The first and perhaps most effective example I saw in action was very early in my career. I worked at a technology startup. After just a few days on the job, it became clear that the person who got things done was the office manager. Not the CEO or the CFO (though I’m sure they did lots of things), but the office manager. She knew everyone by name at the office, who had which skills and informal influence. She could really make things happen.
There’s a difference between being in charge and being a leader. Whether you are already the boss or you have ambitions of getting there, it’s very simple to start acting like a leader today.
Leaders are learners
Bill Gates is known to be an avid reader and has a 2,100-square-foot library in his home. If he can find time for continuous learning, so can you.
Be open to new ways to solve a problem. Don’t settle for the status quo and how you did it last time. Question assumptions before figuring out how to solve a problem. Yours and others.
Look at challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. Some of the things we fear most are also the things that will expand our range and make us stronger. So, put your hand up. Take it on. Trust that you will figure it out.
And don’t be afraid to speak up. You can clearly outline to your colleagues why you think there is value in pursuing something new or different.
Leaders are connectors
Don’t hoard your connections. Bridge people. Be the individual who connects great people. If you are the kind of person with great connections, more will come. You don’t need to worry about the pot drying up.
If you aren’t a person with great connections, start working on it. If the idea of networking makes you shudder, here is a tip: Pay attention to your coworkers and recognize attributes that are complementary to connect them for better outcomes. The point is recognizing other people’s strengths and finding ways to harness those for better outcomes. When you think of it through the lens of others, it’s much easier.
Think outside your organization to your whole life of connections. Friends and family and their connections are often powerful ways of increasing your network and learning new things at the same time. One seemingly casual coffee or social interaction can lead to new information or opportunities you never saw coming.
Leaders are mentors
Ambition is most powerful when channelled toward making everyone around us better. The desire to achieve something great will not happen with one person alone.
Leaders take the time to support and teach those around them so that everyone can build on their own potential. If the person sitting beside you is strong, you and the whole team will be even stronger.
One of the best mentors I had was incredibly generous with his time and pushed me to do things I didn’t think I was ready for or had the expertise to be successful in. He always encouraged me to work harder and strive for greater goals. I wanted to make myself better to justify his investment of time and attention in me. I have tried to pay forward my good fortune to others since then. You can, too.
Anyone can lead
I often find myself reflecting on the determined office manager from many years ago who knew how to connect, mentor and lead. These lessons don’t just apply at the individual level. Organizations that live by these same principles are the organizations with influence – the thought leaders.
In 2020, what sets an organization apart from its competitors is how it is adapting to the rapidly changing world around it. And that world is not about hoarding information or connections or knowledge. It’s about sharing knowledge with openness to let others in and grow.
Pamela Steer is the CFO of Payments Canada, an Ottawa-based organization that owns and operates Canada’s payment clearing and settlement infrastructure, including associated systems, bylaws, rules and standards.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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