Monday, April 2, 2012

Career Secret #5: Act Like A Leader

If you want to move your career ahead - and do it quickly - you must learn to manage your professional image.  With just a little focus, you can develop the qualities of a leader, which will ignite your career and make you a better person in the process.

This means losing some behaviors and adopting others.

Yes, I know, I know.

'I'll feel like an impostor'
'What will other people think if I change?'
'It will take forever to learn'

Acting like a leader doesn't mean you become someone else, but it is a turning point in your career that sets you apart from all the others.   And if you follow this advice, you may look and feel different than you do right now.  But once you let go of your objections and become willing to see yourself in a new light, anything is possible. 

Simple tips for acting like - and becoming - a leader:

1)  Stand up straight.  Do you ever see great leaders slump or shuffle down the hall looking at the ground?  Of course not.  Leaders stand erect, look straight ahead and walk with purpose. 

2)  Stop fidgeting.  No more drumming your fingers on the desk, tapping your foot, biting your nails, folding and unfolding your arms or picking a zit.  Leaders remain still, especially during stressful times.  Their body language projects calmness, confidence and safety.

3)  Pay attention to your facial expression.  Sitting in meetings, I notice that many people relax into a natural frown.  Some have a furrowed brow.  Others sit with their mouths open and stare off into space.  Mentally check your own facial expression to reflect pleasant, relaxed engagement.

4)  Speak with calm authority.  How many times do you say 'you know' 'uh' or 'like' in a sentence?  Filler words diminish your message and make you appear uncertain and less intelligent than you are.  Also, lower the pitch of your voice and speak at a moderate pace.  

5)  Make eye contact.  Look directly into a person's eyes when you're interacting with him.  This communicates your interest, and tells him you can be trusted.

6)  Listen first, then talk.  Rather than jumping in with your own opinion, wait until everyone has had a chance to share their thoughts.  Ask follow up questions, consider their ideas and never interrupt the speaker.  Then, you're ready to summarize the discussion and propose the next step. 

7)  Find your style.  Great leaders don't change their hair color every three months or wear fuzzy boots with a skirt because it appeared on the cover of a magazine.  That doesn't mean that leaders aren't stylish.  It simply means they find a flattering, authentic look and, with subtle variations, stick with it. 

8)  Create your brand.  What do you do better than anyone?  Do you have an elevator speech that describes both your  strength and your passion for the organization?  If not, create one and use it every chance you get.

9)  Always keep your cool.  When your career grows quickly, you can expect that your motives and your competence will be challenged. The way you handle this is so important, especially in an open setting.  Never respond in anger or defensiveness. 'How interesting, I'll give that some thought' is an effective statement to shut down criticism in a meeting.  Silence is also very powerful.

10) Leaders are never victims.  A leader I respect includes this principle in all of his speeches.  You have the ability to move forward, make a positive difference and succeed no matter what.  It's up to you alone.

Adopting these behaviors consistently will change the way you view your work.  And they will change you, too, because we act our way into becoming better people.  Soon, new opportunities will appear, and because you have grown as a leader, you'll be ready.

Unforeseen Challenge:  This career secret will shift your professional life into high gear.  You may have difficulty keeping up with the changes because opportunities and successes are coming so fast.  At times, it will feel like your career is running you instead of the other way around.  This is a totally natural response to rapid change.  You may be able to confide in friends or partners, but they are adjusting to your changes, too.  A good therapist can help you navigate this process much better than you can manage it on your own.  This doesn't mean you're crazy or on the wrong path.  Seeking therapeutic help shows you are self-aware and proactive through your positive transformation.

Fake it 'til you make it?  Act as if?   Well, maybe.  But if you've chosen the fast track (and incorporated the previous four Secrets), your professional life is already changing.  Now, act like a leader and watch your career blast off.

image from


  1. I am enjoying this series immensely! Your perspective and clear, concise advice is useful for every working professional at ANY stage in their career!

    There is always something to be learned, and I am certain that this open, progressive attitude is part of your own success.

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights and wisdom...very well done indeed!

  2. Merci, Mermaid! I really appreciate your kind comment. I have learned so much - some of it the hard way - and it's been fun to share the journey through this series. Glad you're enjoying it!



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