Being a Follower as Someone Who Inherently Wants to be a Leader

Throughout my time in school, both in my undergraduate studies at Susquehanna University and in my graduate studies at Penn State, I made a conscious effort to put myself in positions of leadership and to study the characteristics of great leaders. I was a leader as an athlete on the rugby field, as a senior in my fraternity, in admissions as a Student Ambassador, in the research lab as a mentor, and on my various teams as a graduate student. Sometimes, I was in a titled leadership position, and other times, I was filling the gap on a team when it didn’t look like someone else would. I was, and continue to be, comfortable with the discomfort of a busy schedule and demanding responsibilities.

In November of 2021, after navigating graduation from Susquehanna and Penn State amid the pandemic, I wrapped up my summer job and began as an Assistant Account Executive (AAE) with LifeSci Communications. It was a quick transition; I finished my summer job on Thursday, traveled from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for a wedding on Friday, was a groomsman on Saturday, flew home Sunday, and jumped into my new role first thing Monday morning.

Like many others during the last couple of years, I started this job remotely without any in-person interaction. Things were naturally slow at first. Thus, as someone who inherently wants to lead with aspirations to accelerate my career, I asked myself the following questions: What do I need to do to make an immediate impact within the team at LSC? How can I be a leader despite being young and new to the company, profession, and industry? What are my professional goals for the short-term and the long-term future?

While I didn’t have firm answers to these questions at the time, now, after almost a year, I can reflect on the things that have made me a successful teammate and that have helped guide me in answering the questions I posed above.

Being opportunistic and asking questions

When I jumped into my role as an AAE, there was, and continues to be, a lot for me to learn. I had no background in public relations. I had a degree in biology, but very little knowledge of the complexities of the biotech industry. I had just graduated from Penn State with a master’s degree in management and organizational leadership but still lacked self-confidence. The key to finding success in my new role was my drive to take advantage of almost every opportunity that came my way to do something new. Oftentimes, this meant I was taking on a responsibility or two and learning almost entirely on the fly. But, by showing my teammates and peers that I want to work hard and learn new things, I have established myself as a key member of each team.

An important element of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way is the ability to ask questions to confirm how something should be done in alignment with expectations. This is something that continues to be important in my day-to-day work. While I am certainly not perfect, and sometimes don’t ask questions when questions should be asked, I find that when I am able to ask a confirmatory question about completing a task, I am almost always more efficient and effective in reaching a high-quality result.

Taking initiative and prioritizing appropriately

As I’ve learned how to develop the day-to-day deliverables that need to be done on a weekly and monthly basis, I’ve begun to understand the importance of taking the initiative to get them done without having to be asked. By doing so, my teammates can confidently move forward without having to worry about things getting done in the background. Additionally, they can have confidence in the fact that I will handle things as they arise, and that they will be done as they have been done previously.

An important element of taking initiative is the ability to prioritize. As client deliverables flow into the teams, while the day-to-day activities continue to need completing, it has been important for me to find a balance between taking the initiative to do my ongoing work while also being opportunistic with volunteering to take on new responsibilities. In doing so, I’ve found strength in prioritizing my deliverables by the deadline, timing, client needs, and various other factors that come into play. To me, there is massive value in having the ability to prioritize appropriately while working on multiple different teams with varying goals.

Maintaining a positive attitude

Although challenging at times, maintaining optimism during adversity has proven to be a successful strategy while working as a member of 5 or more different teams/clients at one time. While working in client services, interacting with clients can often be hard. Whether it’s unexpected hurdles or client emergencies, a positive attitude and optimistic outlook offer a team the opportunity to be grounded in the fact that things will move forward. In confronting challenges, I have found that being an optimistic follower grants me the opportunity to be a leader, without having a leadership designation.

So, how can I follow as someone who inherently wants to lead?

Ultimately, in my experience, to be a great follower early in my career (or in other aspects of life), I have had to embrace the skills that I think make me a good leader. I believe that the best leaders are those that can lead from both the front and the back, regardless of their title. To me, this means embracing a mindset of service leadership; one in which the performance of the team comes before my own immediate needs.