“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -- John Quincy Adams
How do you define the word leader? If asked that question a few years ago, I likely would have answered “someone that manages others.” My guess is many others would answer the same. This year, I am one of 91 Schwabbies selected to participate in Schwab’s Aspiring Leaders Program and as the six-month program comes to a close my definition of a leader has completely changed. True: a leader might manage others; but being a leader is so much more than being a people manager. A leader inspires, innovates, challenges the status quo. A leader does all of these – and none of them require that they have team of direct reports.
As I’ve grown my career at Schwab, I’ve been given the following advice on more than one occasion: “If you want to BE a leader you have to SHOW UP as a leader.” The Aspiring Leaders Program has taught me that in many ways I am already a leader at Schwab, yet I may be missing opportunities to build my brand by showing up as one in all that I do.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you three things you can do to show up as a leader, whether you have direct reports or aspire to.
1. Make something better. When I think of a great leader now, one of the first words that comes to mind is innovation. Whether it’s a process, product, or project, consider the tasks you encounter in your day and look for opportunities to enhance them. This could be as simple as suggesting a new process to increase efficiency or as complex as completely revamping a stale service model. Even if your idea is not implemented, the worst that could happen is you get people thinking, “Could we do this better?” Be the spark that ignites a positive change and you will quickly emerge as a leader at your own organization.
2. Become a SME (subject matter expert). When I started at Schwab I felt like I was never going to learn enough to be known as a “go-to” person! About a year in, I realized that there was a gap in our application of social media as a recruiting tool. I spoke to my manager and shared that I was interested in partnering with her on our social programs. I immersed myself in learning everything I could, talking to internal and external experts, reading blogs and guides online, and attending meetings with stakeholders involved in Schwab’s overall social programs. Because I built enough knowledge and advanced our programs to a higher level, I am now viewed as an SME for all things having to do with recruiting through social media, and I am frequently called on to coach and develop the social skill sets of others.
3. Develop someone. A key trait of a leader is an ability to bring out the best in others. While the term “born leader” is often used, the reality is that coaching others is more of an art form than a natural talent! A great opportunity to coach and develop others is to ask to assist with the onboarding of a new employee. Not only will this help identify you as a leader (the new employee will look up to you from the start!) but allow you to share your knowledge and truly help a colleague learn and grow. No newbies on the team? Ask your manager if you can arrange and lead a development activity for your team which will present an opportunity to not only coach others but also a deliver a chance to brush up on your ever-important presentation skills. I recently led my team in a discussion of a TED talk. Not only have several team members mentioned using the concepts we learned, but I was asked to facilitate this type of discussion on a regular basis!
Whether “official” or informal, leading others is one of the most challenging yet rewarding things I do every day. If you are considering a leadership path, I urge you to speak up, spend some time identifying opportunities to emerge as a leader, and take action now to drive your career forward.
About the Author: Shannon Grimes is a Phoenix-based talent attraction manager for Schwab, and her work focuses on connecting with job seekers at networking events, information sessions and career fairs.