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Why this CEO believes you should be more opinionated at work

May 11, 2015, 1:30 PM UTC
Photograph by Patrick James Miller for Fortune

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you go from a worker bee to a decision maker?” is by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

The question of whether leaders are born or made comes up time and again as we seek to understand why some individuals make the Fortune 500 list and others remain a part of the status quo. As a mentor and advocate of learning–sometimes in a trial-by-fire setting–I believe most things in life can be learned.

We encounter small (and sometimes big) educational moments every day that help transform our careers and guide us from being doers to real thinkers. Yet there are deliberate steps professionals can take to shift into a decision-making role, creating exciting opportunities and new responsibilities to bolster careers:

Be fearless
Get into an empowered frame of mind. Too often we let fear get in the way of sharing an opinion or doing something we’ve never done before. Negative talk becomes the poison that builds fear instead of confidence within us. Discover what it is that gives you confidence to jump out of your comfort zone. Figure out what is currently holding you back and how to work around it. More often than not, taking action will give you the confidence necessary to overcome the anxiety you are facing.

Find your voice
Know what you think and how to articulate it. Through the years, I’ve worked with ambitious, young talent, eager to move up the corporate ladder. They were very good at doing–detailed, precise, and timely–but when asked what they thought, hemmed and hawed or simply didn’t have an opinion. Individuals young and old need to understand that an opinion–whether deemed right or wrong–will give you an edge. If you’re able to think about a challenge your team may be facing and suggest ways to solve it, you can change the dynamics of your participation in the organization. You provide added (and perhaps unexpected) value that can go a long way with your superiors. Then deliver your opinion with confidence and a bit of panache to take it one step further.

Educate yourself
Education is power and there are many ways to gain the knowledge you need for success. First, determine what is missing. What type of organization can you join that will give you the extra tools necessary to provide an educated opinion and support the transition to decision-maker? What books can you read or people can you interview? Soak up as much information as possible and find ways to share your knowledge with your team, boss, or other influencers that have a say in defining your role and responsibilities.

Jump on opportunities
Learn to identify opportunities that go beyond your basic job description. Find tasks and projects that allow you to demonstrate how to think analytically, how to make your organization better, or approach a challenge if you were in charge. Even if your plate is full, find time to do a project after hours or volunteer outside of your organization if opportunities seem to be lacking internally. I love it when my team sees an opportunity, presents a plan of action, and runs with it. This, in particular, is a sign to me that they see themselves growing within our organization and that given the right opportunity will continue to soar.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you go from a worker bee to a decision maker?

How to be more bossy at work (in a good way) by Joe Hyrkin, CEO of Issuu.

The advantages of a tough boss by Sunil Rajaraman, co-founder of

How to smoothly transition from a colleague to a manager by Nir Polak, CEO and co-founder of Exabeam.

4 signs you’re ready to be a manager by Dominic Paschel, vice president of corporate finance and investor relations at Pandora Media.