Employees Can Show Leadership

When you start an entry-level job, you might feel like you have a long road ahead of you to move up the ladder toward a leadership role. But there’s more to being a leader than having “manager,” “director” or “vice president” in your title. And conversely, you don’t have to have one of those titles to be a leader.

In an article that was published by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, clinical professor of strategy Harry Kraemer said that junior employees should “lead from where they are” and take the initiative to become a leader within their current roles, regardless of how long (or short) their tenure has been thus far.

Similarly, Jonathan Wasserstrum, co-founder and CEO of TheSquareFoot, said that if you can demonstrate leadership in your current capacity, management may be more likely to trust you with a higher-level role when the time comes.

“Furthermore, it’s a good way to find out what you’re really made of. When you’re [entry level], you have some room to learn … your strengths and weaknesses as a potential leader before the stakes get too high.”

If you’re ready to start building and demonstrating your leadership skills as an entry-level employee, here are four steps you can take right now.

Pay attention to leadership styles in your organization

No matter where you are in your career, you can learn a lot just by observing the leaders in your company. Catriona Harris, CEO of Uproar PR, advised junior employees to pay attention to current leaders to see what works, what doesn’t and what they might want to emulate in the future.

“An entry-level employee might not be leading anyone, but they should be noticing and taking notes on characteristics on effective … leaders within the organization,” she said. “This is the time to start visualizing how you will handle certain situations, so when the time comes, you are ready.”

Volunteer for projects outside your regular duties

Jay Deakins, founder and CEO of ERP software company Deacom, advised entry-level employees to investigate opportunities to help easy a manager’s heavy workload.

“While being respectful of their own processes and responsibilities, offer to take on some of the tasks that they may consider unappealing or annoying,” he said.

“Help your colleagues if they’re buried under work or struggling with a project,” added Wasserstrum. “If you’re collaborating on a project, be the one who sets the progress update meeting [or] proposes next steps after the meeting. These are the kinds of things that can build trust and affinity between you and your colleagues.”

Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Bodybuilding.com, agreed, and said that as a senior executive, he’s always looking for junior employees who volunteer for additional responsibilities outside the scope of their jobs.

“[These are] people who proactively reach out to me, their managers or other leaders in the organization and offer their efforts on … special projects or initiatives, over and above their main job responsibilities,” Jalichandra said. “By doing so, you not only show people that you’re willing to work hard and take risks, but you also usually get to do cool work, too! [A]t some point, leadership comes looking for you because they know you’re up to the task.”

It’s important to note, however, that these assignments should never hinder your existing job performance, Deakins said, so accomplish these new projects during free time after work, on weekends or when your day-to-day responsibilities are completed.

Share your ideas

One of the best ways to contribute o your company — and get noticed by the company’s leaders — is to speak up and share thoughtful, intelligent ideas.

“Don’t be afraid to speak your mind,” Wasserstrum said. “Smart companies respect good ideas and thoughtful dissent, regardless of where in the organization they come from. But at the end of the day, your actions speak louder than words. If you do the work, do it well and are unafraid to own the results, people notice.”