The search for better, more fulfilling jobs is on many people’s agenda for 2023. But one of the best ways to advance your career and gain the stature you deserve is not to rush to find a new job. Instead, you might focus on leading in your present role.
As organizations become flatter, employees at all levels can lead. You don’t even have to be a mid-level manager to bolster your career and build your credentials this way.
Here are five ways to lead “from below ”:
1. SPEAK UP AT MEETINGS
One of the best ways to lead from below is to speak up in meetings—with thoughtful, actionable ideas.
This is not always easy. Nerves may set in, and you may think, I’m going to keep quiet, or I’m too junior. But if you’re well-prepared, even the most senior people will appreciate your contributions. I learned this in my first job as a speechwriter. My boss said, “The CEO you’ll be writing for is five levels above you, but he expects you to tell him what to say.” I learned how to lead from below in that role.
Of course, it’s important that when speaking from below, you express yourself with confidence and conviction. Bring your ideas forward with well-researched proof. Be able to defend your points if someone questions you. And listen to others so you can incorporate their thinking if it enriches what you are saying.
2. TAKE ON HIGH-PROFILE ASSIGNMENTS
A second way to lead from below is to take on assignments that raise your profile in the eyes of your boss and those in management.
Don’t take on roles that involve a lot of behind-the-scenes work. That will likely get you no accolades. Instead, be on the lookout for high-profile projects that create corporate value. A fundraising campaign for a charity that your department or company supports might be right for you. Or you might create a new networking group or mentoring program in your company.
In short, build something that wouldn’t have existed without your leadership. And when you do so, make sure it is widely publicized through both internal channels and word of mouth. Pitch it to management yourself, to be sure you’ll be seen as leading the charge.
3. BECOME A MENTOR
A third way to make a splash is to mentor those who can benefit from your skills. These often are folks below you, but you can mentor “upward,” too.
Suppose you are a communications manager, you might offer a program for executives that shows them how to develop a presence on social media or how to talk to the media. I know firsthand this works because I once asked my boss if I could run a one-day course for our bank executives on how to write a speech. I was amazed that all the senior executives—including the next CEO—came to the course and thanked me for it.
In fact, when I saw their keenness, I decided to launch a company that would teach speechwriting and delivery skills to executives.
4. PITCH YOURSELF FOR A BIG JOB
A fourth way to lead from below is to apply for jobs within your company that may be a stretch for you, but that put you in contact with the higher-ups.
Doing so is one way to inspire those above you. Even if the jobs are too “big” for you, if you go to these interviews well prepared, enthusiastic, and full of vision, you will lead those who are several levels above you to listen to you and believe in you.
Even if you don’t get the job, these executives and senior people will now have you on their radar, and they will likely become part of a network you can rely on in future situations. So, go for it!
5. TAKE ON SPEAKING ASSIGNMENTS
It’s also important to become a strong communicator and find opportunities to lead through your communications.
Every department has events that put the spotlight on one or two people who are hosting or moderating the event. For example, your department may have an annual retreat, or an awards ceremony, or it may be hosting a guest speaker.
Find a way to ready yourself for a speaking role at these events. Take a public speaking course, a leadership communication course, or an improv course. Work to enhance your speaking skills and your confidence as a speaker.
Then step forward and take on a speaking role at your department’s next event. Offer to moderate a panel discussion, introduce a guest speaker, or host an internal retreat. These situations will give you an opportunity to shine, to lead. You don’t have to be the most senior person in the room. You just need to have the courage to step into the spotlight.
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