8 Keys to Being Identified as a Leader

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Leadership is an art, requiring a complex set of skills that need to be refined over the years. But before you’re ready to step up for the C-suite, you need to get your foot in the leadership door. I’ve observed the following eight traits that you can put into motion today to get there:

Related: 5 Golden Pieces of Leadership Advice for Young Entrepreneurs

1. Focus.

It's been estimated that 20 percent of work time is wasted at the typical American business. If you’re the typical type of performer, simply cutting down on time wasters -- such as random use of social media, watercooler gossip or daydreaming -- would provide you with a 20 percent productivity advantage over your colleagues.

2. Be a great teammate.

You cannot be a great leader if you can’t be a great teammate first. Baseball legend Mickey Mantle famously said, “When I die, I wanted on my tombstone, 'A great teammate.'"  If you’re always there for your peers, they will respect you. This is a prerequisite for any leader.

Related: Here's Why You Need to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

3. Seek challenges.

Is there a special project your boss would like a volunteer for? Accepting an additional challenge outside of your normal scope of work not only shows initiative. It's also an opportunity to prove you can handle more.

4. Seek improvement.

Do you go into a yearly performance review just waiting to hear what your boss has to say? Or do you ask success-seeking questions such as “What areas can I improve in the most to increase my value? What should I be focusing on now? Are there opportunities for me to take on more?”

Read. Ask people you respect what books they would recommend. Listen to podcasts or audio books while going for a jog or during your commute. Besides having terrific material to draw on when you face obstacles at work, referencing the latest book or Entrepreneur.com article you’ve read is a great conversation starter with the boss.

5. Strive to be a brilliant communicator.

To lead effectively, you must have the ability to get your thoughts and points across to the team. Evaluate all aspects of communication, including clarity, language, tone and delivery.

Scan your email outbox. Carefully reread the emails you’ve sent today. Were you at your communicative best? To make sure, ask someone you respect to read a few and offer a critique. 

Audio record the next message you give at a meeting. Listen -- however painful this may be at first – and do a little self-evaluation.

To be a leader, you have to communicate like one.

Related: When Working on Personal Goals, Competition Is Beside the Point

6. Run your own race.

Don’t be preoccupied with what the competition (fellow ambitious co-workers) may be doing. Just like a marathon, some people start fast and fade or start slowly and pick up the pace later. Keep focused on what you’re doing, and you won’t have to worry about over- or underestimating your peers. Besides, great teammates root for their co-workers, knowing that there’s plenty of opportunity to go around if people pull together to grow the business.

7. Put in the work.

Sorry, there are no shortcuts to the corner office. If you’re mindful of the first point above, you won’t have to put in 60-hour weeks to get a promotion. But you must always be prepared for times when more will be demanded, both planned and unexpectedly. Working hard and shining when the pressure is really on will definitely bring you notice.

8. Be ready for opportunity.

There’s a story about Warren Buffett entering a crowded elevator and noticing a penny lying on the floor. Everyone saw it, but no one bothered to pick it up, except Buffett, who uttered, “the beginning of my next billion.” It’s a great story. And what I love about it is that he saw opportunity where no one else did.  Look for that shiny penny in your workplace where no else is looking and grab it.

Related: Leadership Lessons From Alexander the Great

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