In 1978, Michael Crom was working as a shipping clerk at Dale Carnegie Training in New York when he met his first mentor, then vice-president Dick Morgal, who took an unexpected interest in his career.
At the time, Mr. Crom was respectful and hard-working, but lacked the skills that would propel him toward more challenging roles in the company.
"I was new at the company, in my twenties, and I would say some immature things at the time, like how tired I was," Mr. Crom said in an interview. "He would pull me aside and say, 'Never say that. If you don't have something really positive, don't share it at this point.'"
As Mr. Crom moved up through the company's ranks and began going on sales calls, Mr. Morgal would accompany him, offering "invaluable" advice. "He saw something greater in me than I saw in myself. That's the great thing leaders in a company can do."
Now executive vice-president at Dale Carnegie, Mr. Crom stresses the importance of developing leadership skills at every level in a company. "We're in a time of people having to do more with less resources, including less people, so it's crucial that everyone take on a leadership role," he said, noting a trend toward flatter organizations, with fewer managers and more equality among staff. "The expectation today is that everyone's going to contribute."
For employees who want to take on greater leadership roles at work, the first and most important step is to speak up. "In a constructive, problem-solving way, speaking up shows initiative," he said. "As you get your ideas incorporated into the organization, document that so that when review time comes, you can in a nice way remind your supervisor of your contributions."
In addition to voicing your ideas, Mr. Crom suggests the following:
Go above and beyond the work that is requested of you and do something before you're asked. Show that you don't need to be told everything.
Don't overstep your manager's boundaries. While it's great to voice your opinions, don't be defeated if they're shot down. The path to becoming a great leader does not mean that you know all the answers right away.
Confidence is the foundation for leadership. If you're confident in your own abilities then you have a better chance of not only succeeding, but gaining respect from others.
Mr. Crom also has tips for managers who want to encourage leadership from within:
Don't let titles set the tone
While it's important that employees understand their specific roles, being at a junior level shouldn't hinder their ability to become leaders. Managers should encourage employees at all levels to step up and take on more responsibility, within reason.
Giving employees more responsibility empowers them to feel like a larger part of the company. The more confidence workers have, the more comfortable they will feel taking on a leadership role.
Lead by example
To encourage employees to become leaders, demonstrate the qualities you are looking for. If you're aware of your own skills, what you've accomplished so far to become a leader, and also what you wish you had improved upon before assuming a leadership role, you'll better be able to identify these qualities in others.
Most importantly, maintain a positive work environment. When leaders remind people that they're valuable to the company, it improves their chances of stepping into leadership positions themselves, Mr. Crom said.
"Understand that your people have so much more capability than they see, or you see, today, and help them to see what they can become."
Dianne Nice is the online editor for GlobeCareers.com. Send your expert tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.