You don’t have to have the title of leader to lead. In fact, the best way to pave the way for a top role is to exhibit the qualities of a leader — before you’re actually tasked with leading a team. So here are small, quick habits that will show your skills.
1. Praise your colleagues.
Calling out your own successes isn’t actually the best way to get people to notice you. Instead, uplifting others and letting them know when they’ve done great work, especially in front of managers at your organization, demonstrates professionalism and grace. A real leader knows how to appreciate others and understands that exemplary work occurs when everyone contributes their unique talents.
2. Pay attention.
What do you do when other people are speaking? Do you let your mind wander, thinking about everything you have on your to-do list, or do you pay close attention?
Sometimes, everybody falls into the former category (we’re only human, and we have a lot to do). Just try not to make it a habit. When you pay attention — really pay attention — when others are speaking to you, you’ll demonstrate that you care and show that you believe what they say matters.
3. Wait until others have finished speaking.
This one goes along with #2: wait until others have finished speaking before you chime in. We’ve all dealt with people talking over us, and it doesn’t feel good. So don’t be that person. A real professional — and leader — demonstrates that they value the other person’s words by letting them speak their piece, even if you disagree.
4. Keep your cool.
There’s no place for out-of-control tempers when it comes to leadership. However, a true leader, someone people respect at work and beyond, can maintain their composure, even when things get heated. Keeping your cool demonstrates that you’re level-headed — an essential quality for top-level professionals — and that you won’t let difficult situations get the better of you.
5. Think before your speak.
Many of us are quick to respond as soon as someone else speaks. But before you do that, take a beat. Allowing just a moment for you to process what the other person said and what you want to say will prevent you from vocalizing anything you might regret. It will also demonstrate that you’re taking care of your words and not dismissing any concerns. This is authentic leadership: showing that you care.
6. Follow through.
Not sure you can follow through on your commitments? Then don’t commit in the first place. Never say yes to anything you’re not sure you can actually do. This will make you come across as untrustworthy — a definite no-no in a leader.
Be the person people can trust. Then, if you show yourself to act on your commitments, others will respect you.
7. Make eye contact.
When we’re uncomfortable, upset, or otherwise disengaged, making and maintaining eye contact can be enormously challenging. In fact, some people have trouble with this even under relatively easy circumstances.
If eye contact doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s something to practice. Looking someone in the eye demonstrates confidence. It’s also a sign that you’re engaged and thoughtful, that you’re truly listening and caring about what others are telling you.
8. Trust your gut.
Your intuition is one of the best resources you have. That inner voice will often serve as a guide, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do, how to act, and what to trust and believe. Once you learn to trust your gut, you will certainly find that your decision-making skills improve and you’re more confident and capable.
If leadership is your goal, these are habits are ones you absolutely can’t overlook. This is how real leaders act — and others will almost certainly sit up and take notice.
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Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.