Ever feel like you’re at the bottom of a long chain of authority? Pretty sure there aren’t enough resources at your company to help you develop essential skills that’ll get you moving up that chain? Well, you’re not alone.
According to the annual Global Millennials survey, cited by Business Insider, most young workers (two-thirds!) are planning to leave their positions by 2020. And 71% of the people planning to jump ship in the next two years will be doing it because they feel there aren’t enough leadership development resources available at their current organization. While that’s a clear indicator that companies have a lot to improve upon on their ends, a lack of clear opportunity isn’t always a good reason to leave a job you like.
There are plenty of different ways to develop your leadership skills—even if there aren’t any official programs or tracks in place for you. Because being a leader isn’t about having the boss title, it’s about stepping up and becoming the kind of person others aspire to be.
So, because you shouldn’t have to leave your job to find chances for growth in your career, here are ways to create these opportunities for yourself—no matter where you work.
1. Get to Know Your Team
All good leaders know their team members—their strengths, weaknesses, and how people can best complement one another. And I’m not saying you need to make some Devil Wears Prada-style flashcards of everyone’s information; just start with simple conversations and build from there.
Take the time to really get to know your company, its history, its values, its industry, and the departments and people that keep it all going—even if bonding with co-workers doesn’t always come naturally to you. Do you think your boss got where she is now without doing the research or understanding the context of her work first?
If you find this to be a challenging, create time on your calendar to make sure it happens, whether it’s a 30-minute lunch, or just a five-minute coffee run with someone you don’t know too well.
2. Help a Co-worker Out
Notice anyone who’s super busy or stressed out lately? Offer your spare time to help him out or take on some of his tasks. No matter where you fall in the hierarchy, you still need to embrace a team player mentality—and that means recognizing the value of working together toward a common goal.
It takes great maturity to be able to prioritize what’s needed most and respond to that, even if it doesn’t immediately benefit or interest you to do so. If you genuinely work at being a point of support or guidance to your peers, you’ll learn so much more about communication, collaboration, and trust than you would by getting mad your job won’t send you to that leadership conference.
Bonus: I’m pretty sure everyone would also love you because an extra hand is almost always appreciated.
3. Take Initiative
You can always go above and beyond at your current job by taking on more responsibilities around the office. The more you do, the more you learn about your workplace and what makes it run smoothly.
If you notice something lacking at your company, you can easily flex those management muscles by recognizing small weaknesses and developing plans to address them.
They can range from being good for the long-term, such as writing up a new training manual or re-organizing the internal drive, or just be about helping out right now, like showing a new person on a different team how to use the copy machine.
These acts—both big and small—show your boss that you’re a self-starter. Even more, advocating for your co-workers or showing around a new employee are all ways to practice management, no matter your current position.
4. Ask for More
At the end of the day, if you don’t feel that you’re growing enough at your company, quitting your job shouldn’t be your first impulse. Sure, if there really seem to be no opportunities to improve, you can consider looking for something new. But a conversation with your boss might be all it takes to shake things up for your work responsibilities.
The key is not to go into the conversation on a negative note, but rather to come prepared with specific ideas for ways in which you could work on your leadership skills. Maybe you volunteer to lead team meetings, or perhaps you suggest mentoring new employees, or if you’re more of a behind-the-scenes person, you revise those old style manuals.
If nothing else, this conversation’s great practice for advocating for yourself—seriously, no one has ever solved a problem by ignoring it. Chances are, your boss will really respect you for your dedication to the company and enthusiasm for taking on more. As long as you’re able to complete your current work, odds are high you won’t be turned down.
Leaders don’t just happen because other people made them that way. It takes practice, and if you look hard enough and get creative, you’ll notice plenty of hidden opportunities all around you to strengthen that leadership muscle.
Photo of team courtesy of Milton Brown/Getty Images.