Be the Leader You Want Without Asking Anyone’s Permission

Too often opportunities to lead are overlooked. You miss these chances because they don’t come neatly packaged with an official request. 

By looking around your organization, you can figure out what consistently goes awry or undone. Unaddressed issues are also overlooked opportunities to lead, whether you have the title or not.

This week, a former colleague called me to say she felt stuck. She’d been passed over for a key program manager role. It was one that would have the built-in leadership opportunities she needs to demonstrate her readiness for further promotion. After talking for a few minutes, she started to see that leadership opportunities are everywhere. Here’s what we talked about.

Shift the conversation from venting to problem-solving.

Shutting down frequent venting sessions, gossip, or manager-bashing with coworkers is a great leadership opportunity. The “meeting after the meeting” or snarky side conversations are rampant in some organizations–and exhausting. They start off feeling like a bonding opportunity but become useless if they go on too long without taking any action to fix the core issue. The leadership opportunity is to listen to a point. Then stop the person or group and note that it seems some of the facts are missing or the conversation has gone on too long. Then figure out more constructive steps you might take to better understand and resolve the issue. Contributing or even just being a bystander to negative conversations can slow down your progression in the organization. Leaders are always seeking the facts needed to make informed decisions. Guessing and gossiping waste your time and focus.

Light a fire under forgotten initiatives.

Every organization has at least one (if not 15) great ideas that are dying on the vine. We capture these in planning meetings, but too often we don’t have the time or attention to do what needs to be done to get them going. Ones I’ve heard about this week include onboarding materials for new staff, a diversity and inclusion action plan, and surveying the competitive landscape. Pick something of the greatest interest to you (maybe few seem intriguing on the surface but pick one anyway). Do some research and plan out the immediate next steps. To get this priority rolling, what would you, your team, or the organization need to do over the next four to six weeks? Don’t bother planning out too far in advance. You want to build some momentum and see where it goes from there. Some ideas fade away for good reason. If there isn’t the will across the organization to invest, pick something else.

Scan the competitive landscape, then report your findings.

Pick your head up and scan what’s going on in your industry, in your client’s industry, or in the world. We’re all so busy and consumed with what’s right in front of us that we miss the trends that seem so obvious in retrospect. You can make a name for yourself as the person who’s consistently on top of trending, relevant news and puts it in context for what it means to your organization.

Remember, leadership opportunities are all around us.

These are just three examples of ones you might have overlooked. I certainly have in the past. Being too busy or unsure of what I was “allowed” to do also held me back. Luckily, these three don’t require permission just a little initiative and time investment. Taking these actions can be personally and professionally satisfying because you build your leadership muscle and elevate your reputation as someone that takes initiative.

To help your organization move forward, lead from where you are, this demonstrates your skill range and can help you build a reputation as a problem solver.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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