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How to Exhibit Leadership as an Individual Contributor

By John Lafleur 3 minutes read

TL;DR: As a team lead, you become more consciously aware of certain things about your team that you, subconsciously, already knew. One of these things is that you can let some people on the team just run, and they will get things done. Others need some monitoring and some guidance. Then there are yet others who surprise you in curious ways. They remove obstacles and align with other teams before you know there were obstacles or that there was alignment needed. They step in when they see somebody going down a wrong path.
They exhibit leadership.

If you are an individual contributor, and you want to be in a leadership position, you can start today by exhibiting leadership in the following ways.

1. Leading by teaching

Teaching is a great way to have a lot of impact, because you act as a multiplier. It is also a way to establish yourself as a leader. There are several kinds of leadership, and knowledge leadership is an important one of them.

  • Give a workshop or a presentation in a guild meeting.
  • Pass the knowledge on in a way that is filtered and tailored to your organization.
  • Make the knowledge actionable. This way, you can save the others a lot of time, which increases the value you bring as a team member.

2. Leading by example

  • If you show hard work and passion, you will inspire the people around you to do the same.
  • Show how important a task or project is to you by putting in your best work. If you want others to show up on time, show up on time yourself.
  • If you want others to go the extra mile, go the extra mile yourself.

3. Leading by setting high standards

Most people want to deliver high-quality work. However, under high workload and time pressure, many will be tempted take shortcuts and compromise on quality. They think that people rather expect them to finish quickly than to deliver a high-quality solution. In these cases, it helps when they have somebody to hold them accountable, to encourage them and to remind them that they can do better than that.

4. Leading by communication

  • When there is no dedicated communication spokesperson, you can create a lot of value by helping critical information reach those who need it.
  • Once in a while, ask yourself if your team’s activities might impact other teams so that they should get a heads-up. If yes, pick somebody from that team and politely ask them if they are interested in information about your team’s plans.
  • Try to imagine which activities outside your team might affect you, then try to find out more about those activities by talking to people.

5. Leading by giving credit

  • “There are two things people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.”
  • If you make it a habit acknowledging behaviour you like to see in your colleagues, you can contribute a lot to an appreciative and positive team culture, where individual wins are celebrated as team wins.

6. Leading through code reviews

  • They offer an opportunity to encourage people to follow best practices, or to be more thorough.
  • They are a place where alignment starts, and company-specific best practices crystallize.
  • They are a place where you can share your knowledge, and where you can learn from others.
  • They are a place where you can praise and reinforce good work
  • Give suggestions how to improve, but don’t solve the problem for them. Criticize the work, not the person.

7. Leading by going into hard conversations

Make sure critical pieces of feedback reach the right people, even if you’re aware that the conversation might be difficult.



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