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How to Be a Leader - Even When It's Not in Your Job Description

One of the best things you can do to improve your chances of advancement within a company is to start acting the part of a leader, even if you're not officially the leader. But don't think that it's just a matter of "fake it 'till you make it." There are concrete, well-defined behaviors you can display that prove you're leadership material, even if you're still relatively new to the office.

When it comes time for upper management to bring someone new into the ranks of the company's brass, they're going to look for someone who already displays all the signs of an emerging leader. Thus, the time to start acting like a leader isn't when your job title says you're one--you should start as soon as possible. Here are some ways you can be a leader at work, even if it's not official yet.

Be a giver

Research from Wharton Business School professor and author, Adam Grant showed that one of the main traits that all great leaders have in common is that they're givers. They didn't get ahead at the expense of their teammates, they got ahead because they constantly gave to others with no expectation of getting anything in return.

In an interview with Fast Company, Grant explained that great leaders are generous with their time, knowledge and resources. They don't worry about who will "owe them one." The results of this "giver" mindset are clear: One of Grant's major discoveries was that people who help their colleagues and subordinates, receive more raises and promotions, most likely because they build deeper, more trusting relationships.

Don't be so self-sacrificing that you drop the ball on your own responsibilities, but if you want to position yourself as a potential leader, make sure you're as helpful to others as possible.

Be the first to offer solutions to problems

Workplaces have no shortage of people who can describe everything wrong with the company in great detail, but there are only a few who ever bother to step up and offer real solutions. As Jill Geisler, a writer at the Poynter Institute, wrote this is the difference between who gets perceived as a winner and who gets dismissed as a whiner.

If you want to avoid being seen as a chronic complainer, take note of the problems the business is having and come up with real, workable solutions that you can bring to upper management. But don't stop there: As you explain your ideas to your managers, show them how you can personally be a part of the solution.

In times of need, leaders are the ones who everyone else looks to for direction. By being proactive and coming up with your own solutions to any issues, you'll display a knack for diagnosing what's wrong and showing that you're invested enough in the business to want to be a part of the answer.

Show that you can take the heat

Setbacks and missteps can lead to a great deal of frustration, much of which is directed toward the leader, who is expected to fix the mess. It's easy to get dragged into the blame games and barb trading with everyone, but this is exactly what you should avoid if you want to be seen as someone who can maintain order even when things get crazy. True leaders don't point fingers or make excuses--they accept the feedback they're given and make it known that they will do what it takes to set things right.

As a subordinate still learning the ropes, you will likely get plenty of criticism, and not all of it will be delivered in a friendly manner. This is why Suzanne Lucas of Inc. wrote that you should always be quick to own up to your mistakes and failings without complaint or blame shifting. One great way to do this is to make sure you don't confuse a professional failure with a personal one. This will help you develop thick skin, a necessity for any leader.

Remember that leaders are learners

Great leaders have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Whether it's staying on top of industry news, developing new skills or just deepening their understanding of their own business, the best leaders never stop learning.

Geisler correctly pointed out that you don't need to be in a formal leadership position to demonstrate your own desire for continuous learning and improvement. Be sure to stay up on the latest happenings in your field, take some training courses and, perhaps most importantly, ask your managers and veteran coworkers plenty of questions.

By constantly working to expand your skillset and knowledge base, you'll show your managers that you aren't satisfied with the status quo, which, coincidentally, is exactly what they're looking for in the next generation of leadership.