Discussion about leadership often focuses on big-picture ideas and sweeping gestures. Leaders are people who take charge and make things happen. We think of them as having big jobs, larger-than-life personalities, and expansive vision.
But none of us were born with these qualities and achievements. Leadership ability is like a muscle – it gets stronger as you exercise it, says leadership coach Susan Mazza, founder of Random Acts of Leadership and author of coauthor of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time. She says that enhancing your leadership skills and practicing “random acts of leadership” can cumulatively build your leadership acumen and help you excel when the big opportunities to lead come your way. Here are some acts of everyday leadership that can help.
When you prepare the conditions for your success, you have a solid platform to support your leadership, says Seattle, Washington leadership and personal development coach Posy Gering, author of The Next You, Discovering Confidence, Calm and Courage – Now.
Such preparation happens in a number of ways. On the most pragmatic level, it means preparing yourself by building the knowledge and experience you need to lead. However, it also means preparing your attitude, mind and body. That includes being aware of how you feel, managing stress, taking care of yourself physically, and keeping your mind clear so that you’re able to solve problems and recognize opportunities when they arise, she says.
“[Leadership is] about doing less and being more. The reason you want to do these kinds of practices is that it increases your availability to your task, which is being aware of and solving problems so that other people can do great work,” Gering says.
Mazza says that leaders aren’t afraid to say the thing that needs to be said, even if it’s unpopular. Proposing solutions to do things better or more effectively sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be difficult to create change in some situations.
Leaders practice speaking up by looking for opportunities to do so in appropriate ways. Sometimes, this requires a strong, firm approach, and sometimes it requires diplomacy. Either way, saying something when your gut tells you things need to change is the mark of a leader, she says.
While acts of kindness are designed to make a difference in the life of another person, Mazza says that acts of leadership are designed to make a difference in something bigger. That could mean taking a stand against an injustice or taking on a role that needs to be done. Leaders approach every situation looking for what they can contribute and how they can make a difference, she says. When you’re contributing ideas to meetings, bring them back to how they support the overall goals of the team or organization. Illustrate that you understand factors beyond the most immediate demands.
Gering adds that big-picture thinking also means taking appropriate action. Sometimes, that means acting immediately, but other times it means taking a more measured and thoughtful approach to a situation, waiting for more information or appropriate timing. Being able to understand the difference is an important leadership quality, she says.
Leaders are good at solving problems, Gering says. They look for solutions that serve the needs of the greatest number of parties and understand that even effective solutions might not always be popular. She says it’s important to have critical thinking and creative skills to be an effective leader because the best solution might not always be the obvious one.
Look around you in your everyday interactions. Are there problems that need to be addressed? Can you approach another colleague and bridge a gap or find a better way to do something together? These are simple ways to show your leadership ability regardless of your position.
“More and more, we need people who are good collaborators and have the skills to learn with one another. That’s going to help us solve the business problems of tomorrow,” Gering says.
It’s hard to trust someone who is fake, so effective leaders need to convey that they’re really being true to who they are and what they believe, Mazza says. Look for ways to connect with others genuinely and don’t veer from your beliefs just because you’re under pressure to do so.
“One of the ways that we can bring leadership to any situation is by being willing to be real, which includes both being honest about what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling but also being genuine and interested in what others have to say,” Mazza says.