Act Like A Leader Before You Are One


Every day, all day long, each one of us “acts” for whatever role we are playing at the time: spouse, friend, parent, boss, subordinate, and so forth. 

It’s not that you’re faking it, rather you are learning, adapting, and taking responsibility for your effect on others. You are choosing who you want to be each moment. 

Don’t wait for someone else to choose leadership for you, act like a leader before you are one and take charge of your career and your impact on those around you.

Why You Should Act Like A Leader Before You Are One

When I coach politicians, I tell them to start behaving now as if they had already won the election.

If they act the part they are seeking before they get it, it will give them practice in living this success, and it will cause voters to see them in the role, which will make the election more likely to go in their favor. 

The same goes for leadership. Rather than waiting for someone to hand you a title, act like a leader before you are one. Regardless of where you are in your company (or life), you want to take ownership of what you can in your career. 

Make your mind up, and then do something about your decision to distinguish yourself in all aspects of how you think, act, and work.

Even if you already have a leadership role or title, you still have a responsibility to yourself to act like a leader. You’re never a finished product and you are always choosing what part to “act” in your life and career. 

Adam Grant, Wharton professor of psychology, said this “Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be. Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.”

Act Like A Leader To Stand Out From the Competition

When you are visible, good things happen for you. 

People seek you out because they’ve heard about you and your capabilities. They invite you into business meetings and conversations when they don’t have to. Your name pops up when people talk and gets passed upward and outward because you are top of the mind and tip of the tongue. 

It’s very easy to become invisible. When that happens, headhunters don’t call, bosses don’t promote, and mentors don’t respond.

Being visible as a leader is up to you. You are always choosing whether or not to act like a leader and stand out from the competition. 

There is play pretend needed as an adult, just as you did as a child. When you were a kid, you acted out your dreams. You dressed and spoke like a cowboy, an actress, or a fireman. Similarly, as a leader, you need to act out being a leader. 

People believe what you show them, not tell them. You need to “look” like what people have come to expect in a leader. It’s not in the clothes you wear (that’s only a small part of it) or an accoutrement of power around you, but it’s your bearing, manner, and comportment that cause people to have confidence in you and your decisions.

A Few Basic Guidelines For Acting Like A Leader

Acting like a leader doesn’t mean grandstanding or insisting your opinion and viewpoint are always right. Good leaders usually do the exact opposite.

To differentiate yourself as a leader, you first need to do more and do better than everyone around you. A lot can be said about what makes a good leader, but here are a few overarching principles to follow as you try to do more and do better.

  • Be Confident
  • Be Honest
  • Be Good-Natured
  • Keep Learning
  • Be Positive (Choosing a job you love helps)
  • Help Others Succeed
  • Do A Stellar Job

Be Confident

You set yourself apart from other good performers when you display more confidence, more often. 

If you worry that you don’t have what it takes, then know that everyone is insecure in some area. Not even the highest-paid CEOs escape that sense of insecurity. The difference in their effectiveness is in their acting ability to camouflage it. 

It’s not that difficult to act it, particularly when you take on some of the physicality expected of a confident person: stand tall, pace yourself, and look comfortable in your own skin.

You set yourself apart from other good performers when you display more confidence, more often.  Act Like A Leader Before You Are One Share on X

Be Honest and Ethical

Honesty removes the burden of having to remember lies, and a true leader doesn’t lie, cheat or steal. They do what they believe is right, regardless of the circumstance.

Be Good-Natured

Being good- natured makes it easier for people to work with you. If people feel seen and appreciated, they will go the extra mile for you no matter what your title is. And if you can break up a tense situation with a bit of levity, all the better.

Keep Learning

You more easily come up with new ideas when you stay curious, always clamoring to learn more about people, places, and things.

Be Positive

It’s easy to go to work when you love what you do or you choose to love the doing. You end up as Warren Buffett is famous for saying he does, “singing on his way to work.” Keeping a positive attitude no matter what your circumstances will attract people to you.

Help Others Succeed

People assisting other people in achieving their day-in-day-out grind, not just their end goals, happens less than you would think—that’s why it’s a big differentiator for you if you do it. 

Being an indispensable solo performer isn’t enough. You have to help make others up and down the ladder be indispensable too. When you cause people around you to be accomplished and to feel valued, strong, and talented, you’re the one who shines. 

You get noticed and “pulled up from above” as well as “pushed from below” because of what you trigger others to attain.

Do A Stellar Job

All the leadership qualities in the world don’t matter,  if you don’t get the job that you are paid to do successfully completed—and more. It doesn’t impress bosses at all if you just do what is required. If early on, or at the latest mid-career, you put your trademark on a few meaty problem assignments in this manner, it will set you up for the rest of your career life. Stellar work is the investment in yourself that no one can take away, and no depressed economy or down market can diminish. 

Act Like A Leader: Be A Leader

If you wait for someone else to decide that you are a leader, you may never be one. But you don’t have to wait for anyone else. The choice is yours.

Choose to act like a leader before you are one and you will not only stand out from the competition but find yourself being noticed as the leader you’ve chosen to be.

Are you ready to step into being a leader? I am here to help. Contact me to discuss executive coaching, or if you have a group of emerging leaders, for a speaking engagement.

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