How to Demonstrate Leadership at Any Level

By: Alvin Fong

As an intern or junior employee, you might see “demonstrate leadership” on your assessment forms. Perhaps you joined a club in university or college and led some projects with a team. But now, as part of a company, how can you show that you can lead?

Who would listen to a lowly intern about their opinions on Angular vs React? Or why design thinking might be terrible? You have nobody to manage, and nobody’s asking you to be their mentor. How do you show leadership… when you have nobody to lead? The solution is to lead yourself and take charge of your own career growth. Let’s start with four simple and easy things you can do that will show your ability to step up:

1. Interviewing and Shadowing Interviews


Recruitment is an important part of any organization. Helping out with your organization’s recruitment is something everyone, at every level, should participate in. You’ve likely gone through a few interviews yourself; you know what an effective interview feels like. If your organization allows it, you may be able to shadow co-workers and get a good sense of what it feels like to be the one interviewing candidates. Later, you can suggest improvements and good interview questions. Eventually, you will be able to run your own interviews!

2. Be Active in Meetings


Meetings, in some shape or form, are crucial to how information moves around an organization. Most meetings have a clear agenda and many result in neat action plans. Alas, you may find yourself attending meetings in which you would rather be somewhere else. Maybe you could be heads down working, or you may find yourself in the meeting with nothing to contribute; perhaps the meeting is unlikely to deliver a concrete action plan. In such cases, you can show your value by being engaged in meetings:

  • Show that you’re interested in learning about the meeting’s agenda items
  • Don’t be afraid to bring up points that coworkers haven’t brought up — junior workers are very valuable to organizations as a “fresh pair of eyes”
  • Take notes for meetings and distribute the minutes — this is especially useful in meetings where you “don’t know why you’re there”
  • Volunteer to help with the meetings’ action items, either taking responsibility for them or help another employee.
  • 3. Seek Help When Appropriate


    Every worker wants to be seen as a high performer on their team. Alas, sooner or later you’ll be given a task that doesn’t fit with your existing skills. Don’t be afraid to seek help from your manager and coworkers — don’t let yourself get stuck on a problem and then have no work to show for a day or week. You want to show initiative in solving the problem.

    When you have found someone to help you:

  • Let your advisor know what your task is, and what assumptions you’ve made.
  • Show evidence of what solutions you’ve tried, and what challenges you’ve met.
  • Work with your advisor on discovering the next steps or alternative plans.
  • Remember to take notes on what you learned! This helps you avoid repeating the same questions.
  • 4. Learn to Set Plans and Goals


    Setting goals is an important part of your career growth. At most companies, workers will meet with their managers to set goals for the short- or long-term future. This could be a daunting task — not everyone has a ten-year plan to become the company’s next CEO!

    Start by thinking about what interests you — is there a technology that you’d like to work with within the company? Is there a project you’d like to help out on? This will help you set goals that will also benefit the company’s day-to-day work.

    Do you have any blind spots in your skill set? Maybe there is a skill the company needs, and you’d be able to take on new roles after learning it. If it’s a skill the company isn’t currently using, discuss with your manager to find ways the company can benefit from you learning this particular skill.

    In Conclusion…

    When tying the above points together, we land on the idea that companies need employees who want to be effective contributors. Leadership isn’t about ordering useful actions to others — it includes identifying goals, setting plans, and showing engagement. Let your manager and mentors know what your goals and plans are, and look for feedback on those plans. They will then know you can take charge of your own career and are willing to step up for new initiatives.

    A little bit of extra reading:

  • Written by a US Naval Lieutenant, this blog gives great advice for graduates who are “in charge” of far more knowledgable coworkers

  • Not relevant to leadership, but the format presented within helped me write this blog
  • About the author

    Alvin Fong is an Agile Software Engineer at TribalScale. He develops apps on Android and FireTV platforms, and is changing his mindset every day to better accommodate TDD. His current interests include learning Kotlin testing and architecture patterns, applying them to projects as appropriate.

    TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!

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