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Question: I just completed an internship with an amazing company.  I’m excited about starting my career and eventually want to earn a leadership role.  Do you have any basics for how to start off on a good foot?


Answer: Leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to develop the skills, experience, and trust necessary to be tapped for a leadership role. The skills and experience will come as you learn the ropes of the business, but you won’t find trust-building in the Employee Handbook or an Operations Manual.  Whether you’re in line to move from individual contributor to manager, or you have your eye on the corner office, apply these five practices every day to build the trust you’ll need to be the best candidate when the time comes.


1. Add value to every interaction. Tempted to make a remark during a meeting just to make sure others know you’re engaged? Don’t. Your role will vary from meeting to meeting. Sometimes you’re the resident expert. Sometimes you’re the facilitator. You may even be there just to listen.  Cultivate sensitivity to what’s required of you every time you engage.  As Lincoln put it, “Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”


2. Don’t participate in gossip. Gossip is a negative discussion about anyone not in the room.  It can be in the form of complaining about decisions made by others.  It may be to learn more about a rumor.  Joining in gossip can give you short-term feelings of satisfaction or superiority. In the long run, though, it leaves you feeling mean spirited.  Develop the ability to see gossip as judgmental and one-dimensional. Good leaders spend less energy on what happened and who did it, and focus more time on why.


3. Be fully present for every meeting.  If you’ve committed to attend a meeting, come prepared by doing your homework. Be ready to share your thoughts and always take notes. Meetings provide excellent opportunities to build relationships and gain perspective. Don’t blow these opportunities by being Pavlovian about checking your phone every time it buzzes.


4. Make sure your decisions honor the company values. Like individuals, companies have a set of values that shape priorities, reactions and goals. The longer you’re with an organization, the more responsibility and independence you’ll be given. Checking your decisions with your manager will be replaced by checking them with your gut. When your decisions violate the companies’ values, a sense of disconnection is created. Over time, this disconnection leads to stress that will inevitably fracture your relationship with the company.  Use your moral compass to guide you up every rung of the ladder.


5. Ask yourself if you are managing or leading.  If you spend 90% of the day in your chair, chances are you’re missing out on what’s going on around you. This is management in a nutshell. You start a position by deep diving into the mechanics. You learn and repeat until you’ve mastered the process. But don’t become a slave to the process. Develop a radar for how your work fits into the organization. You’ll learn where changes should be made and how to communicate the changes for maximum impact. Great leaders are fascinated by perfecting their processes.


These five practices are basic but critical in building your credibility as a leader.  If you want to grow as a leader, you must grow first as a trusted individual.


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