Leadership as Craft

5 Ways to Grow as a Leader

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Leadership opportunities present themselves in our lives all the time, often without title or appointment. Perhaps you have become a mentor to someone, have taken on leadership unexpectedly, or are responsible for championing a new effort—how are you capitalizing on these leadership opportunities?

Leadership, like a craft, will only develop with awareness and practice. Here are five things to consider right now in your areas of influence:

1. Do you view yourself as a leader?

You manage things; you lead people.” – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

 “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” – John Maxwell

The org chart has nothing to do with this. If you work with others and manage SOMETHING (human or not), you are exercising leadership. Your responsibility might be to solely manage a timeline, but when it is done with ownership and passion, you will find yourself to be an immediate asset and influence on your team.

Leadership styles may vary considerably between you and your coworkers and superiors, but trust that it is there. Make note of which projects you feel you are an integral part of and those that you don’t. What contributes to this? If you do not first view yourself as a leader, your interactions within teams and projects will directly reflect that uncertainty.

2. Where are your insecurities?

There are so many battles worth fighting for. The ones not worth fighting are the insecure battles that rage in another person’s mind.” ― Shannon L. Alder

Take an honest look at yourself in your environment. Where do you feel confident and where do you feel threatened? The triggers that cause us to feel threatened usually point to an insecurity. This may manifest in a need to always be “right”, despite the effect on others. Power plays, passive aggressive behavior, blame-shifting, and playing cop are also all indicators of insecurity. (Even subtly in those email chains!)

Recognizing and dealing with these insecurities is critical, because when we wrestle with identity questions or operate out of fear, it severely impairs our ability to lead. You must learn to overcome your insecurities or simply accept them for what they are. Regardless of their personality, leaders are best received when they are authentic to themselves and leading from a place of confidence.

3. Are you likeable?

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” – John Maxwell

I recently went to a conference session where I was interested and excited about the topic, but left the session annoyed and uninspired. The speaker was saying the right things; however, her delivery and presentation rubbed me the wrong way. I sensed condescension when she addressed the audience, and found myself instantly critiquing her delivery, PowerPoint slides, and even her outfit…

When others are on board with YOU as a leader, they are quick to become advocates for your vision. Being likeable does not mean that you have acquired the most office friends or that you give others what they want – it’s grounded in treating others with respect. If you sense a lot of initial pushback from others, evaluate whether or not you are communicating respectfully. Try reframing your interactions, such as approaching a team member with a desire to educate, rather than to critique.

4. Are you honest?

"There's no compassion in vagueness." - Irv Grousbeck

We have all been there – a coworker asks our opinion, and we respond, well, vaguely. It’s not a terrible solution, but certainly not good. If we care about the person and the project, communicating clearly and truthfully is the best way to respond. As difficult as it may be, honest communication is the key for effective collaboration, hitting objectives, and ultimately creating better work.

Something I’ve also noticed: effective leaders communicate their expectations early and often. Do you have assumptions that live inside your head? Help your team out by being transparent about what you see and expect in your projects, and seek out the same honesty from those around you.

5. What do you want?

"A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity. One must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Knowing what we want is easily clouded by our own uncertainty and outside circumstances. Effective leadership starts with a pure understanding of self – only then can you craft an authentic course from which to lead and inspire others. Don’t be afraid to delve into your fears and insecurities! Becoming honest with yourself will allow you to see where you are, and where you can grow. With that knowledge, you can begin to articulate a vision for what you actually want. Where is it that you see yourself going? What are your current circumstances and obstacles? How will you navigate your way? Find yourself first, then look for the vision.

Inspired by leadership session taught by Ryan Jacoby at the AIGA Head, Heart, Hand 2013 Conference. View live session notes.

Karis Cady leads Pyramid’s design team as Design Director, with experience in a range of disciplines, from branding, print and digital design, illustration, and data visualization. When she’s not envisioning new logo concepts in her head, Karis is likely exploring the outdoors with her family. Connect with her on Twitter @Karisima.