Posters in Mihaylo Hall talk about how our students are “Ready to work. Ready to lead.” We all know that it takes a strong work ethic to graduate from this program. So let’s talk about leadership. What does it mean to be a leader?
Leadership is primarily about influence. Being a leader simply means being able to influence others to see your point of view or to pursue a course of action that you prefer.
So how do you get to be someone who is able to influence someone else? Here are some things you need to do to improve your ability to influence others:
Know your stuff
In order to influence, you must been seen as being competent. Learn enough about the topic so you can talk about it like an expert. Read extensively on a topic. Talk to others who are knowledgeable about the topic. Be sure to also seek a diverse range of perspectives so as to understand how different types of people view the topic.
Knowing the material is a good start. The next step is to let others know that you are competent by being able to present your knowledge with confidence. A great place to do this is in meetings because you can convey your competence to a large number of people at once. As Indira Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, says, “A lot of people are brilliant, but if you don’t have the courage to speak up, it doesn’t matter.”
To influence others, they must respect and trust you. A great way to build trust is by being yourself. Don’t try to do anything outside your normal interpersonal style and stay true to your values. It is vital that others see that your motives are pure. Rather than seeking personal gain, you are seeking to pursue a course of action that will truly benefit the organization.
Look for opportunities to make a change
Leaders steer clear of the status-quo. The worst thing to a leader is to hear someone say “but we always do it that way.” If someone justifies a certain course of action with the status-quo, it should be seen an opportunity to lead. It is likely that the current solution is inefficient and remains in place simply because nobody has the desire to change it. If you have a solution that you think is more effective than the status-quo, a great way to demonstrate your leadership potential is to try to influence others to adopt it.
Practice in low-risk settings
Like everyone else, to get good at something you must practice. And college is a perfect place to practice. Get involved with the numerous clubs and organizations present on campus and, if possible, become an officer. Or you can become the leader for a classroom team project. This will put you in a position to have encounters that will give you a sense of how well you can influence others. As a result, you will have a better understanding of your strengths as a leader as well as areas in which you can improve.
These strategies are by no means intended to be exhaustive. Based on your own experience, what else can you do to more effectively assert your leadership abilities in the workplace?
Guest blogger Atul Teckchandani, assistant professor of management at Mihaylo, teaches courses in entrepreneurship, provides student advising and is involved with the Center for Entrepreneurship. His research examines how different types of organizations in a community collectively affect economic outcomes and entrepreneurial activity. You can follow him on Twitter @atulteck.