Head Start: Thinking About Leadership Early in Your Career
A few months ago I taught an Extra Grind class with the rest of the Project Management department. At the end, one of the students asked me, “How do you maintain a level of leadership as you learn and emerge in your career?” I paused. Up until that moment, I never thought that I was in a position of any kind of leadership. But, when I look at the work I’ve done and the projects I’ve led, I realized that while I may not be a senior level employee, I’ve still maintained a level of leadership and authority throughout my two-year career.
I answered their question as best I could on the spot, but their question has stuck with me ever since. It is a question I wish I had asked my mentors, but I’m glad I found the answer to it on my own. I wrote this blog to share further thoughts on this meaningful question.
“While I may not be a senior level employee, I’ve still maintained a level of leadership and authority throughout my career. ”
You Won’t Know Everything – That’s Okay!
Know that you will not know everything as you’re starting but, have a good sense of where you can find answers. The first time a website build was a part of one of my brand projects, I had no idea how to bring that to life. I knew what needed to happen, it was outlined in our scope of work, but I had never led a website project before. I knew “what” we were doing but not “how.” At the time I was working with two director-level designers who had both worked on many website projects. I knew they had the answers that I did not. Together we had all the pieces and knowledge to bring this project to the finish line.
I found that it is really beneficial to be honest with my team members about what I do and don’t know when it comes to different projects. At an internal meeting for that website project, I was honest and said, “I am really going to need your guidance and lean on your expertise during this portion of the project.” Neither of them thought I was incapable of managing the project after admitting that, it was just the opposite. They appreciated my honesty and knew I was ready to learn from them. I was still confident in my project manager capabilities to keep the project on time and moving forward, I just needed my teammates to provide more details of what they needed in order for them to do what they do best. By being upfront, I was able to create a clear and open line of communication with my team, bring the project to the finish line, and learn new project processes along the way.
Fostering leadership early in my career has been lot about knowing who to go to for details and answers to help me fill out the bigger picture of a project. I’ve built trust with my team this way and trust, in turn, builds leadership.
Take the Lead of Your Learning
I discovered early on that one way I can take a significant leadership role is in my own learning. Being honest about what I do and don’t know empowers me to ask questions, especially when I interned. I took charge by asking my mentors and peers to explain things to me that I was not familiar with—scoping, creating project timelines, understanding project processes, etc. Even by asking little questions (like “Why did you phrase that this way?” or “How did you come to this conclusion?”) I took charge of learning what exactly a project manger does and why. This showed my managers that I was capable of managing my own learning, able to be proactive in my job, and able to communicate across the team effectively.
Another way that I’ve fostered leadership while still early in my career is getting involved and volunteering to take charge of internal projects. Extra Grind is a labor of love here at Superhuman, run by Superhumans who give as much time as they are able. I got on board the moment I started at Superhuman because it was something I really wanted to be a part of. The more I involved myself, the more I was able to take responsibility of different internal projects and tasks confidently. No one asked me to work on Extra Grind—I stepped forward and said, “I will take responsibility for getting this done.”
My advice to those who are beginning their careers is to get involved where you can and be eager to take on projects. Ask all the questions, learn from your peers and mentors, and listen when they share their knowledge and experience with you.
Leadership can be something you do at any level in an organization, it’s not reserved for those running the largest teams. I encourage those starting out to view every task you take on as on opportunity for leadership. You too have something to offer in this working world.
Artwork by Ashley Zimiga