MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Laura Martinez, assurance diversity leader at PwC.
Growing up in what many would call the ‘innovation hub of the world’, or the San Francisco Bay Area, has exposed me to some of the best and brightest leaders of our time. Additionally, throughout my career at a professional services firm, I’ve also been fortunate to be surrounded by several extraordinary leaders and well-known industry giants alike. In reflecting on my 25-year career at PwC and now in a position of leadership myself, I’ve often wondered what makes a great leader. As I aspire to be one myself, what strikes me is how there isn’t one perfect leadership style. What I’ve learned is that it’s about finding your own way of being effective and stepping up to take on the challenges you’ll face.
I often tell my counselees that the earlier you can demonstrate leadership skills, the quicker you will gain the confidence to lead. And, thankfully, opportunities to lead are all around us. Before I made partner, I was asked to serve on a number of nonprofit boards, one being the Financial Women’s Association of San Francisco (now called Financial Women of San Francisco). I was fairly young when I agreed to serve on the board as treasurer, a position that historically had been filled by more experienced individuals. Being treasurer pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I grew to love the position. Prior to this experience, I likely would turn down a risky opportunity, insisting I was too young to take on such a demanding role. But being successful in a role that was initially challenging gave me the confidence to take on similar roles in the future.
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Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented professionals just starting out in their careers. Despite their junior levels, many routinely drive positive change at the firm and have an enormous impact on our business. I’ve also seen our younger leaders help people in more formal leadership roles to better appreciate the business and human capital environment we operate under. It’s important to remember that anyone can step up and take a leadership role, but there isn’t only one best way to lead.
We often look at our predecessors in certain roles and think we have to lead in the same way. That can be very challenging for a lot of us and I think it’s unnecessary. I’ve worked on finding my own unique style and harnessing my natural strengths to make the most impact. For example, one of the things I’m good at is bringing many kinds of people together with different backgrounds, objectives, experiences or skill sets, and finding an inclusive way for everyone to offer their diverse perspective.
As I look back on my career, I see that some of my best leadership roles and experiences came when I had more junior titles than I do now. Even if you don’t have an ‘official title’, find ways to step up and claim a leadership role by being engaged and motivating others to make positive change. Get out of your comfort zone and try something different. It can be in the form of productively challenging the status quo, trying to find a better approach to something, or coming up with an idea to address a problem and taking it through to execution. No matter your background or level of experience, it’s never too early to start taking on leadership roles and proving yourself as a leader.