As hard as it might be for some to believe, I was never one who wanted to be in the forefront. I’ve always been quite opinionated—ie a chatterbox—but only in the company of close friends, family and coworkers—not for a wide audience. I always felt that the more I played the background, the safer I’d be in terms of scrutiny and responsibility.
There’s a comfort in not being in the limelight, whether it’s in one’s industry or everyday life. But there’s also a dangerous laziness that comes when one wants to be a leader but doesn’t create a substantial voice to earn them a seat at the influencers’ table.
Some leaders I admire had this same mindset at one point early in their careers, where they just wanted to be part of the process, not the person leading the charge. Some of us are pushed into our purpose, becoming leaders not by choice but by the nudging of those around us who can see and help nurture our potential.
There are always those doubts: Who am I to lead? What’s so special about me? What if I mess up? What if I’m a total failure? These fears are healthy and natural but not if they remain top-of-the-mind. As any successful leader would say, you won’t your fullest capabilities unless you give it a go.
As a young professional, it’s great to be a team player who takes a backseat, but it’s also good to know your strengths and rock with your gut when you can see where you want to be in the future. In mapping that out, building a platform and having a voice is key. Here are three ways to get started, so that your excellent potential can’t be denied or ignored:
1. Determine exactly who you are a professional and your career values and goals. If you don’t know these things, you can’t start to build your professional brand. This doesn’t have to be an end-all-be-all checklist of things that won’t ever change. (I mean, when you’re young, the process of maturity denotes that what’s important in your early 20s probably won’t be that serious in your 30s, 40s and 50s.) Gain a base knowledge of who you are as a professional brand and what you offer the world. Be concise and focus on your top strengths.
2. Find an industry leader you admire and emulate. If your mentor (or the one in your head) has a full-fledged company Website or schedules out their day from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep, follow in their footsteps. If they wear sharp business suits, use polite greetings for the door man and know how to tell someone off without making a full-fledge enemy, take notes and execute as you see fit. True, not everything they do will work for you, but it’s important to at least build a foundation of professional practices and branding that you can build upon (or edit) as you go. You can take cues from multiple sources if you like, but be sure each person is along a similar career track as you, embodies ideals and actions that are conducive to success in your industry, or they’re in a position you’d like to attain or top.
3. Get on your social media game. I can’t say this enough. One awesome social media expert and professional I admire is Mike Street. This guy is phenomenal in the way he uses social media and builds a professional platform with it. Find out how you too can have a voice utilizing the many resources available via social media. You don’t have to just stop at Facebook or Twitter. Research other platforms to leverage within your industry. Get that blog going so that people will see you as an expert in your field who is engaging in the latest dialogue and trends. Start engaging your peers using trade industry forums and networks outside the usual. Learn about SEO and how best to expand your reach on the Web. Get on those panels at your church, school or networking event, and speak to crowds on things you’re passionate about as they relate to your field. (I know we all like to cash checks, but some of these things you could do in-kind, building up a repetoire that will lead to a competitive portfolio of experience that you can later monetize.) Host virtual chats that invite others to join in the conversation with you.
What are ways you’re building your budding brand as a young professional? #SoundOff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.