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Leadership at Every Level

What does it mean to be a leader when you’re not the boss, don’t have a fancy title, or are the youngest person in the room?

Just because you’re not the “decision-maker” at work, doesn’t mean you aren’t making decisions all-day long that can get you noticed and appreciated for the role that you do play.

And, experiencing the trial and errors of leadership—without the mind-numbing pressure of a higher-up position—is a great way to get to know yourself, and your inherent leadership skills and passions. 

For a good chunk of my career, I’ve been the youngest person in the room. This is a result of many factors, not least of which is good mentorship from bosses and colleagues who were willing to bring me along to meetings and conferences, and who were willing to introduce me to the right people, as well as to invest in my leadership ability.

It also required my own determination and courage to step out of my comfort zone (sometimes very far out) and invest in what I knew deep down to be true, even if it didn’t look that way: I am already a leader.

Though I may have had that knowing deep down, in my daily professional life I almost never felt 100% sure, or even competent, that what I was doing was right. I was always questioning of myself. Each phone call, email draft, or meeting felt like something I had to complete without proper instructions (insert IKEA furniture metaphor here).

As the days and months passed I would get better at my assignments, and feel more confident in my abilities, but I still always felt hungry for a deeper sense of recognition, appreciation, and responsibility. 

For all of us who’ve ever felt a little under-recognized (basically, anyone who’s ever had a boss, a first job, or made minimum-wage, and isn’t some kind of tech-wunderkin), it’s all the MORE important to focus on how to be a leader.

Here’s why:

  1. You influence others around you everyday—from your co-workers to the coffee-cart guy (or, if you are the coffee-cart guy), you rub off on folks.
  2. Ever heard the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? Well, it’s also important to exemplify the leader you know that you WILL become, once others start rightfully paying attention.
  3. Now is the perfect time to figure out your own “leadership message,” before you’re the one being put under the spotlight.

Got it? On board? Great! Let’s continue…

So, what is your leadership message?

Each of us has a leadership message to share—the assistants, the canvassers, the grunts, and the baristas—we all have a unique gift and brand. Each interaction throughout our day is just another opportunity to show the world who you are, and strut your stuff.

Here’s one way to figure out your special offering:

  1. Start with this question:

When I walk out of the room, I want others to feel ______________.


  • When I walk out of the room, I want others to feel soothed and at ease.
  • When I walk out of the room, I want others to feel inspired and curious for more.
  • When I walk out of the room, I want others to feel better about themselves.

An honest answer to this question is the first step is realizing your leadership message.

  1. Next, identify HOW you will achieve that goal.

For example, if you want others to feel better about themselves when you leave the room, you could make the goal to say 1-2 unprompted compliments in each conversation you have today.

Or, if you want to leave others with a feeling of curiosity, subtly hint at what your blog or Pinterest page has to offer. A mystery can go a long way!

However you structure it, being intentional about how you show up, puts you back into the driver seat of your own leadership. You have the power to define your persona and reputation in a way that’s authentic, and a little bit of fun!

And remember: your leadership message will keep changing at different points in your life and career, so keep checking back in to see if your message still fits, or if it needs a bit of a tweak.

When I realized that I wanted to start being known as a leadership expert with a strong interest in self-growth, that become my goal everyday. So, even when I was putting together the metaphorical IKEA furniture, I was clear on my task, and started to work my interests and desires into more conversations on a daily basis.

As you step into your leadership, you’ll also begin to notice how others respond. This information will actually be quite helpful, as you see whether or not your boss and co-workers are potential mentors or support systems for you. And if not, it might be time to look outside your current job to find these needed professional champions.

It’s time for you to get noticed! Being an advocate for your recognition means stepping out of that comfort zone, and getting to know your inner PR agent. After all, how do you think Steve Jobs, Oprah, or even Michelle Obama got their fame?! They weren’t afraid to act on their vision, invest in their own leadership potential, and start from the bottom up.

How do YOU express your leadership?!

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