Professional Development

5 Ways to Prove Your Workplace Leadership Skills

Written by Kate Lopaze

This time of year is pretty blah…the holidays are long over, and you’re so far into your new year resolutions that—let’s be honest—you’ve probably lost track of them. It’s time for a jumpstart! One way to get back into your fresh January groove is to start building your leadership skills at work.

These strategies can help you set yourself up for success for the rest of the year, even without that lovely new goal scent.

1. Steer conversations.

This is not to say that you should bully people into a particular outcome, or try to establish a particular point of view. This means stepping up when there’s a group situation, and making sure everyone stays focused on the task at hand. If a meeting seems to be meandering away from its purpose, be the one to say, “That’s great, but can we clarify how that applies to X?” or “I think that’s a great point, and we should set up some time to talk more about it after we finish up here.” This not only keeps your attention where it should be, but it also shows people you’re committed to getting things done.

2. Be proactive.

Whenever possible, don’t wait for assignments to fall in your lap, or for your boss to tell you the next steps. Try to figure out what the next steps will be. And if they fall within your role, confirm that you’re handling them.

If you’re not positive what the next steps are, confirm with your boss that you think X, Y, and Z need to be done—does she agree? Or if it’s clear that a group email conversation is slowly turning into a death spiral of unproductiveness, set up a meeting (with a set agenda) where everyone can call in or get in the same room to hash things out.

Notekeeping is a great way to be proactive. In meetings, jot down notes about who was there, what major points were discussed, any open questions that still need to be answered, and whatever the next steps are. Then email them to everyone who was at the meeting, ideally the same day. It may sound tedious, but it shows everyone that you’re taking the initiative to own the process. And it may save the day when, three days later, everyone’s having the same discussion over email, and you can be the hero who steps in with the reminder of what was already discussed/decided.

3. Ask for feedback…

This isn’t just a give-and-take between boss and employee. You can apply it to your meetings and everyday interactions with colleagues too. If you run a regular meeting, ask the attendees if the format works for them, or if there are any changes they’d like to see. (This can be done discreetly, over email.) Ditto for any workflows or processes that you’re in charge of running. It shows that you’re actively interested in making things better for everyone involved.

4. …and be prepared to give it.

This is an area that calls for your best workplace diplomacy—and it’s not an open invitation to criticize people. If you think a process could run more efficiently, and you have an idea of how to do it, pull your coworker aside and ask if he has thought of doing it a different way. It’s very collaborative, and can build your relationships as well. Don’t be afraid to share your (polite and professional, please) opinions!

5. Be a single-tasker on big projects.

If you have a high-profile task or project, set aside time that’s devoted just to that project. Most of us have jobs that require juggling a number of tasks and projects at once—but for top priorities, make sure you have time built into your schedule when you can concentrate fully on one at a time. No email, no new requests, no meetings.

If your concentration is best in the morning, block out an hour or two right when you get in the office. If you have your best ideas late in the day, set a 3 pm “hunker down” time. The idea is to show commitment to your highest priorities, and develop the confidence to say, “This is what I’m working on right now” without letting others distract you.

Even if you’ve let your workplace goals, uh, lapse a little, don’t sweat it—it happens to everyone at some point. But you don’t have to wait for the end of the year to start fresh. A little stepping up goes a long way, and you can start building your leadership skills ASAP.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.