Regardless of where you are on the career ladder, there will be a point when you’re handed a leadership role and be expected to hit the ground running. Maybe you’re aiming to lead an initiative, been chosen to lead a team project, or given the opportunity to apply for a management position.
As a Forbes, Business Insider and ELLE Magazine “30 Under 30” recipient as well as the Founder and CEO of Mogul, an award-winning worldwide platform connecting women to trending content, I have had to rapidly adapt and perform repeatedly as a thought leader while also managing a team.
Whatever your case may be, you’re probably wondering how you can develop leadership skills on the fly. Although you probably have a rough idea from watching your manager, being an effective leader requires finesse and complex knowledge.
But rather than waiting for an opportunity, start developing those skills now. Here’s what helped me:
Take a Leadership Personality Test
To improve your skills, you need a starting point. First, take a minute and think about how you behave in stressful situations and what is your preferred leadership style. Do you ask others for their opinions or do you tell everyone what to do and how you expect them to do it? Do you lead from the front, or do you worry about where your team is headed and whether there is a clear vision ahead? You’ll gain insight into your preferred style of leadership by taking a few minutes to think about these questions.
If you’re unsure what your tendencies are, take a quiz. There are many leadership-style quizzes online. The test will determine your leadership personality and identify how you can improve your abilities to build on your strengths.
Keep a Journal
You’ve probably heard this before: Journaling is good for your career. As a bonus, you can start today without a big investment of time or money. I started journaling early on in my career. I started by writing one entry each week and continued to do so, even if the entry was one or two lines. Taking these five minutes out of my week allowed me to change my perspective and see things in a different light, which then enabled me to present concepts and tasks to my teams in continuously improving formats.
I recommend making this particular journal strictly about your career — save reflections on that awkward exchange with an old friend for a different diary. Note instances you could’ve handled differently or times you could’ve communicated better. Keep records of your own and your team’s accomplishments, long-term goals, mishandled situations, time-management issues and more. You can write it out by hand or keep track online.
Unsure where to start? Write an entry on what you consider to be the five best traits of a leader.
Find Your Passion
In order to be an effective leader, you need to be passionate about what you do. It’s inspiring to follow a person who’s all-in and who eats, sleeps and breathes their work. Passion isn’t something you can fake.
If your current job feels like little more than a paycheck, take a “passion test” to discover what you care about. These tests typically involve a series of questions or interactive games to determine your personality traits (cognitive, emotional and social), which will then generate your profile and match you with careers and companies deemed a good fit.
When you’re truly engaged with your work and displaying your passion to others, employees will be more likely to follow you.
Improve Your Communication Skills
Even those who excel in many aspects of leadership will probably hit a ceiling if they are not a good communicator. You should aim to over-communicate with everyone on your team so nothing gets misunderstood or misinterpreted. Set up routine meetings with your manager and any colleagues working on ongoing projects with you, even if they are only brief check-ins.
No matter where you are on the chain, you can work on this. Do you excel at written reports but clam up when it’s time to speak during a meeting? Or are you a natural when it comes to conversation, but secretly worried that your poor grammar will hold you back? Instead of relying on your strong suit, beef up whatever area of your communication skills is lacking. It will make you a more valuable employee now, and a better leader later.
Become a Leader Outside of Work
Being a charity board member is one of the best ways of getting hands-on team-building and leadership-building experiences. Yes, it’s true that some organizations have boards composed of people with massive name recognition, experience or bank accounts. But there are probably numerous nonprofits in your community that would be thrilled to have you join and offer your time and skills.
I’ve served on the Board of Trustees for No Limits Media and Provincetown Film Society, the Interactive & Technology Committee for WNET New York Public Media and the Business Committee for the New York City Ballet. Every group represented different facets of my interests and provided me with networking opportunities, mentorship and most importantly, roles where I was able to refine my leadership skills.
Not only will you be helping a great cause, you will learn about each facet of the organization for which you have oversight. For example, if you’ve never seen an operational budget before, now you will have. To get started, ask friends, family or Google for suggestions.
Learn How to Build a Solid Team
Another important part of being a successful leader is putting together the right team. Start developing those skills by paying attention and taking note of your co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses. Have you noticed who does (and doesn’t) seem to work well together? Or maybe if one person’s skill-set complements another’s?
Understanding personality dynamics and how different people work together will enable you to be a strong team member, regardless of your actual position. Finally, remember that the best leaders also reflect on their own weaknesses and see people who have different strengths as important contributors.
Take an Online Leadership Building Courses
Take an online course geared toward building your professional skills and get resources and expert advice to help accelerate yourself into a stronger, more confident leader.
Being a leader doesn’t have to include a fancy title. No matter where you are in your career, the steps above can help you grow your skills so when a big opportunity comes your way, you’ll be ready.
A version of this post originally appeared on Mogul, here.