Step Up. Lead. Rinse. Repeat!

As ambitious, young professionals, I emphatically encourage you to step up and lead in your everyday encounters in the workplace. What does it take to be a leader, you may ask? Great leadership begins by embracing the real you, who you genuinely are. Outstanding leaders have integrity, authenticity, and vulnerability. To channel your outstanding inner leader, you commit to acting through honesty and your principles. You also withhold judgment and create a real connection with people. Gayle King is an excellent example of demonstrating these qualities. She’s smart, always prepared for her interviews, fun, and honest. She’s a master of saying what we’re all thinking elegantly and poignantly; she unapologetically in who she is. Gayle has authenticity and can comfortably express her thoughts, feelings, and values. When we are in tune with and nurture our most sincere selves, we feel personally powerful. This honesty with who we are signals authenticity, believability, and genuineness and says to others, you can trust this person. The more we can be our empowered, most genuine selves, the more comfortable others are working and interacting with us.

I’m a big fan of Brené Brown, best-selling author, podcaster, TEDTalk speaker, professor, and researcher focused on studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. In her NYTimes bestseller, Dare to Lead, she writes that to be a great leader, you need to forget about status, titles, and power plays; instead, engage your heart and mind to embrace trust and honesty. So wise! A key point I interpret from her words is that depending on superficial and external signifiers doesn’t define a leader; it’s all about owning your inner strength. She also emphasizes that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it can be your greatest strength. Vulnerability is having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Everyone is vulnerable, no matter how much they try to avoid it or hide it. Think about a time at work where you held back because you second-guessed yourself. You felt you might not have the right answers, but —guess what— no one has all the correct answers. Admitting your vulnerability and being honest with yourself, your colleagues, and your staff is what draws people in and connects you. Your honesty conveys trust.

Early in my career, I took a new job, and during my first week, I attended an off-site team-building exercise. We were assigned to a team and had to build a boat from a handful of non-boat related items. The company’s CEO was there, and I heard he was an excellent sailor and that he loved this particular boat building exercise. Of course, I was on his team, so right off the bat, I was anxious. As we came into the huddle, I offered up; “I’m new, I don’t know a damn thing about boats, but I’m a quick learner with a great attitude, so how can I help?” Everyone looked at me like, “I can’t believe you said that,” but the CEO laughed, and the group built the boat. And through the rest of the off-site, everyone wanted to meet “the new gal that told the CEO she doesn’t know a damn thing about boats.” I turned my vulnerability into an asset, was authentic, and found a way to stand out and lead while still being a team player.

Speaking of teams, it’s critical to internalize that a significant facet of identifying your inner leader and creating the career you desire is being a good team player. Teams are an integral part of how things are done in most organizations. Plus, teams are more efficient and able to complete tasks faster, and what company doesn’t want to solve problems more quickly?! Good team players treat others with respect, acknowledge those who do great work and support each other.

Frankly, many of the basics of effective collaboration that will serve you throughout your life can be understood and exemplified in childhood, as that is when we begin learning socialization. Showing that you are capable of “playing nice in the sandbox” can significantly impact your career. That means being inclusive, adaptable, and approachable. It also means doing what you enjoy, what you’re good at. When working on teams, it’s essential to find a role that allows you to do what you do well. Selecting the right role will help you make a meaningful contribution – and increase your chances of doing a great job. Plus, it’s usually more comfortable and satisfying to do tasks when you’re naturally good at them. My boat example aside, I have worked on plenty of team projects where I had significant accomplishments due to doing work that utilized my skills and talents. To own your career, you need to make your mark. Be valuable to the team and the project!

We are dealing with sooo many uncertainties in the world right now. What leadership traits resonate with you? Having a positive attitude helps you cope more easily with daily life, both professionally and personally. Being optimistic helps avoid worrying and negative thinking. Research shows that positive people lead happier and more successful lives

Think about the difference a positive attitude can make in your work life:

  • You assume the best of others = You are more likely to have better relationships.
  • You remain hopeful and curious = You can deal with challenges more effectively.
  • You have a good attitude, which increases your energy level = You get shit done!

Have you ever worked with or known someone that has such good positive energy, it is contagious? I’ve been fortunate to work with several people like that over the years, but one, in particular, stands out for me. She was the eternal optimist, always happy and smiling, and every client loved working with her. I can recall we had a tough client that no one could close, a real curmudgeon. He was a tech guy, hard to talk to, and overall just very difficult to deal with. However, she accepted the challenge and never complained about him. She just kept meeting with him, chipping away at his tough exterior, a little bit each time. It took her 18 months or more before he became one of our clients and one of her biggest fans. I saw on LinkedIn that he just retired, and if I mentioned her name, I have no doubt he would still rave about her. Today, she is a senior executive at Google.

Bottom line: Become a leader in the way you lead your life and conduct yourself day in and day out. Be yourself, your authentic self, pitch in, help others as a team player, and have a great attitude. You are on the fast track path – go get ’em!

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Kim Martin