It's a typical day. You’re making progress on one of your projects, and then it stops! You are asked to participate in a meeting, assist a colleague, answer an e-mail, or do something else. This continues for months, maybe years! You complete your duties and make time to work on other value-added tasks. It feels overwhelming. If someone asks what you do, your likely response is “It depends on the day.” If someone asks your job title, your likely response is “I don’t know.” The lines of engagement may be blurry to you, but others consider you a leader. A title doesn’t define a leader. Work ethic and character do. Anyone can be called a leader, but a true leader “leads” as a visible role model for others. For example, during certain times of the year, accounting and finance professionals work many more hours than usual. After a while, peers may be exhausted. Morale may decrease, and tension may rise. A leader concentrates on the positives.


Depending on your company’s organizational structure, there may be limited opportunities for supervisory/managerial positions. Yet there’s always room for an aspiring leader. It isn’t the “one great thing” you’ve done to get there. It’s the consistent pattern of many great things you’ve done to get to this place. Embrace the change, and “lean in” to the role. Aspiring leaders are the heart of an organization. Without them, an organization’s vision and strategic goals won’t be met. Leadership at all levels matters!

Again, there are two types of leaders in an organization: leaders with a title and leaders without a title. But they share some very important common attributes:

Leaders pull—they don’t push. Leaders pull through influence. They influence others by giving them a voice. If you listen to their concerns, they will listen to yours. Leaders pull by acting as a team facilitator. Others push by acting as a dictator. Working in a team-based organization has benefits. As a team, everyone works together to get something done. All ideas are considered. Members of the team are given the opportunity to work on projects independently to come to a solution and present it to the organization’s leaders. If the leaders have already figured out the solution and instruct employees to complete certain tasks, where’s the value?

Leaders motivate. Leaders are responsible for the energy they bring to a space. Make your space interesting. Find a way to make it fun and rewarding for others.

Leaders don’t panic. Leaders know things work out in the end. They stay calm in stressful situations. Your knowledge and experience as a leader will enable you to systematically work through any situation.

Leaders are respected. A title doesn’t earn respect—a person does. The person earns respect through his/her work, so let your work speak for you. The respect you earn will outweigh the time invested and any failures along the way.

Leaders deliver. Proper planning leads to good decisions. Good decisions lead to a great work product.

Leaders are teachers. It isn’t the “what” that should be conveyed. It’s the “why.” Explain to others why tasks are important. Teach them the basics. Then others will know what your needs are.

Leaders are communicators. Effective communication leads to desirable results. Expectations should be clear. Discuss what you consider an acceptable work product. This shouldn’t be confused with micromanaging. Offer guidelines for a project or task. The employee should take ownership of the rest.

Aspiring leaders lead in any capacity. They are able to establish relationships and close communication gaps. Find out where you fit in on your team and within your organization.

A team is made up of people with different strengths. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Be true to yourself when determining a career path or alternatives and how they could fit for you. For example, if you’re an outgoing person, a career in accounting where you are confined to a desk and crunching numbers all day may not be for you. But transitioning to a management accountant may be right. You’ll be able to interact with different groups, learn about processes, and determine the financial impacts. Continue to perfect the things at which you excel. Gradually gain experience and education in other areas. Knowledge comes from progression, and progression will naturally ease to a comfort zone. Progression starts when you step out of your comfort zone. Seek challenging projects. Volunteer for a project about which you have little knowledge. The learning experience will be gratifying and rewarding.

Aspiring leaders may not have the authority to delegate or to require others to perform certain tasks, so they deliver through influence and relationship building. The ability to influence and inspire others is powerful. The challenge is that there isn’t “one way” to do so. What influences one individual may not influence another. Think about previous conversations and concerns of others. Factor these concerns into new conversations, and compromise on a solution.

Aspiring leaders share common attributes, and it’s a good idea to attempt to incorporate these qualities at your workplace. Titled leaders within an organization are looking for someone they can mold to be the next leader. This person has to be a good fit for the organization. Education, personality, experience, and likability will all count.


Here are some common things aspiring leaders need to do to maintain their visibility and a positive image:

  • Create challenging assignments for yourself. Don’t wait until someone gives you challenging assignments.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. You must be able to maintain your composure in all situations.
  • Ask questions. If you ask questions such as “What are the advantages of doing this assignment/project?” “How can we streamline or improve efficiency?” “May I reach out to someone in another department to get clarity as to how this process works or why actions were taken?” you’ll be considered a forward thinker.
  • Be a mentor to others. Pay it forward.
  • Be prepared. Scope of meetings, agendas, and sticking to time requirements show respect for others.
  • Think about opportunities, not tasks.
  • Take ownership of your own career development. It shows commitment to your profession.
  • Exhibit a professional presence. Anything less than this can create a perception of you that may be a deal breaker.
  • Keep yourself marketable. Continue to improve your skill set. You never know when certain skills are needed.
  • Give yourself permission to say “no.” You can’t be involved in everything. Focus on assignments aligned with your career goals.
  • Understand the big picture. How do your tasks affect other departments?

As an aspiring leader, continue to be a good example. Continue to be you—the informal leader today but the titled leader tomorrow.

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