10 Ways to Act Like a Leader -- And Get Ahead at Work

I have worked for organizations with as few as four employees, and others with as many as a couple of thousand. In each of those companies, employees who were good "team players" were valued and rose quickly into leadership roles. If you want to move ahead in your workplace, here are 10 ways to become a better team player.

1. Get to Know Your Team

You may not think this is job #1, but it's really important. In order to accomplish your company's directives, it is helpful to better know and understand your coworkers. For example, employee "A" may love all things data-driven, but "B" might excel in social media and marketing, and hate crunching numbers. Meanwhile, "C" might be the organizer of the group, who will keep everyone on track. If you don't already know your team, you might ask them to take an interpersonal self-assessment such as Social Style. If you are out to accomplish a common goal, understanding personalities is very helpful.

2. Share a Vision

What is it that you are all trying to accomplish? Has management shared its mission? A good team leader will map out and share goals and a timeline. Communicate! Weekly huddles, monthly meetings, emails, and texts keep the flow of information going. Be patient and do your best to be friendly. Keeping a positive outlook and sharing your enthusiasm will keep your team moving in the same direction.

3. Be Ready to Pitch In

This is one of my favorite "teamwork" quotes: "Sympathizers are spectators; empathizers wear game shoes." — John Eyberg

If you aren't pitching in on a project, this is going to be noted by your team, and it will result in gossip, resentment, and a "Why should I?" attitude. You will lose respect. So what if you're the big cheese? Get your hands dirty. File, copy, crunch numbers, make phone calls — whatever it takes.

4. Motivate the Team

If you are the team's leader, or eventually want to be that person, you need to motivate the team. What you need to do is to figure out what motivates your team members. Don't you have your own "carrots?" To motivate, you need to get to know them. Personally, I would rather have a bonus than a pizza party. Some team members will love being recognized at a meeting, but shy ones will be embarrassed. The point is, one size does not fit all. A strong team player knows their team, and knows what motivates them.

5. Take the Initiative

Somebody has to do it: Whether the project is cleaning out the office refrigerator, auditing the I-9's, changing the toner, or working on Saturday, there are going to be those take-one-for-the-team projects. Once in a while, that person needs to be you. Put your hand up. Everyone will be grateful.

6. Say Thanks

Don't just say it during reviews, or when something gets done. Unexpected thank-yous are a great morale-booster. Writing someone a heartfelt note is very meaningful. Pick up Starbucks coffees, grab McBreakfast for everyone, or thank your team publicly in a staff meeting. Say it, write it, or find creative ways to show that gratitude.

7. Make it FUN

By fun, I don't mean "Let's go outside for team-building and build a team pyramid!" I personally abhor team-building exercises, both physical and mental (remember the stranded plane exercise of the '80s?). Most people like potlucks, office "pools," or silly games in the breakroom. You might join together on a food drive, or a fundraising walk to better the community. Several departments in my workplace have special t-shirts they wear on casual Fridays. Mix it up — while some will love Zumba in the conference room, others would rather do a craft.

8. Help Each Other

Isn't helping each other a huge part of teamwork? I really like knowing I can go to certain team members for IT assistance, navigating new software, or ordering a particular office supply. Everyone has their area of expertise and your work life is greatly simplified by knowing who can help you. Be the person that people can go to. Are you approachable and helpful? If not, then get to it.

9. Brainstorm

Stuck on a problem? Get together with the team, a lot of paper, and start throwing out possible solutions. The trick with this is to make sure everyone's voice is heard. A good leader will ask the quiet staff members, if they have not contributed, for their input. Be respectful of everyone's ideas. Type them up, prioritize, and move ahead.

10. Reward!

Most companies, no matter their size, have some sort of recognition. Some offer bonuses; many larger ones throw ceremonies. If your team member, or entire team, has done great work, make sure that information gets in front of management. Successes need to be celebrated. Everyone wants their efforts to be recognized and praised.

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