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4 tips to becoming a leader in your workplace

April 23, 2014

One of the most notable recent developments in the business world is the erosion of the rigid, hierarchical understanding of leadership. In the past, company leaders were found in management and really nowhere else. Now, while managers certainly still exist, businesses realize that employees throughout the organization have the potential to exert a powerful influence on their colleagues, and this capacity is being increasingly recognized as leadership.

For professionals looking to advance their IT careers, demonstrating leadership is critical. Here are four tips that can help you wield influence and impress your coworkers and superiors.

1. Don't try to play a role
One of the biggest mistakes that workers make when trying to demonstrate leadership is attempting to play a role. Many employees have a notion in their minds as to what a good leader sounds like, acts like and so on. The problem arises when employees attempt to mimic these external displays, rather than embracing the true qualities that define leadership. They think that if you play the role, leadership will naturally follow.

Such efforts are bound to backfire. As Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis recently highlighted, it is far better to stay true to yourself as you attempt to become a better leader in your workplace. By doing so, you'll demonstrate control of both yourself and your environment.

"Control means that you trust yourself enough to be your most authentic self—and as a consequence you have greater awareness of your surroundings, the people in the room, your body language, the manner in which you communicate," he wrote.

2.  Be likeableto a point
Great leaders are likeable. They make others want to work with and for them. But leaders must also be willing and able to take action and make decisions that disappoint or irritate coworkers. If you always aim to make others like you, you will ultimately do both your company and yourself a disservice.

Llopis offered an example to highlight this point. He noted that one employee, Christine, performed well in her position and was very well-liked by her colleagues. However, she was unable to advance within the company because no one really saw her as a leader.

"She allowed the workplace environment to control her leadership reputation because she focused too much on being well-liked and fell into the trap of complacency," Llopis explained.

Popularity is important for leaders, but so is innovation. To lead your team, you may need to change the status quo, which can upset workers who enjoy their routines. This is a step you must be willing to take.

3. Admit failure and ask for help
As you move into a leadership position, you may feel less willing to reveal weakness. This is understandable, but can lead to misguided efforts. If you are unwilling to acknowledge your own flaws and failures, you will likely exacerbate the damage, and gain a reputation for unreasonable pride.

That is why Financial Post contributor Rick Spence considers "I have bad news" and "I need your help" to be two of the most important phrases for business leaders of all kinds. In the former case, Spence emphasized the need for leaders to acknowledge their team or organization's poor performance, rather than trying to hide or minimize it. Such an unwillingness to acknowledge reality will come across as poor leadership, rather than strength.

Similarly, refusing to ask for help will likely make you appear either stubborn or unrealistic. Spence emphasized that employees realize that everyone, including leaders they respect, will make mistakes and require assistance. If you try to act as though this is not the case, you won't fool anyone but yourself.

4. Be willing to both take and share credit
As you take on and complete a growing number of projects and initiatives, the issue of who gets credit will inevitably surface. In these cases, you need to walk a fine line. You certainly do not want to claim credit for work that you do not deserve, as this will likely be discovered and generate resentment among your colleagues.

However, you also can't let your work go unnoticed by being unwilling to claim your fair share. If so, you won't gain the rewards and reputation that you earned.

By striking the right balance here, you'll establish that you are not only a team player but also an innovator and decision-maker. All of these traits are essential for demonstrating your leadership abilities, which in turn will create new career opportunities in IT down the line.

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