(MoneyWatch) A common piece of advice employees often get during their annual performance reviews is to "act more like a leader." But that can be a challenge for younger employees who don't yet manage anyone.
If your boss asks you to prove that you're leadership material, here's how to do it -- even if this is your first job out of college.
Start a charity project. Between the continuing aftermath of superstorm Sandy and the annual holiday food, coat and gift drives, this is a season ripe for giving back. Spearheading a philanthropic initiative is an easy way to show your management potential without being designated for a project by your boss. "You have an instant opportunity to showcase your project management, volunteer recruitment and organizational skills," says Jenny Foss, career advisor and founder of JobJenny.com. After you nail your goals, be sure to publicize the results and let your team know what they did under your leadership.
Make your boss look good. Becoming a problem-solver won't just help you get better reviews in your current position, it will help you get to the next one. "Leaders solve problems, they don't just perform tasks," says career coach Meg Montford, founder of executive coaching firm Abilities Enhanced. "When you show others, like your boss, that you can analyze a situation and offer a viable solution, you will stand out from your peers who are just doing their jobs."
Mentor the interns. If you're the low man or woman on the totem pole, it can seem impossible to find someone to mentor and lead. That's where a company's interns come in. "Helping others navigate the culture and the ins and outs of the company not only helps others, it also hones your people skills by strengthening your connections and challenging you to learn to work with different people," says leadership strategist and organizational consultant Nicole Lipkin. Eventually, your boss will notice that you're a natural leader, even if you aren't officially managing other full-time staffers.
Take charge of the Next Big Project. Put your hand up -- your job may depend on it. A common mistake among younger, or shy, employees is waiting to get selected for a prime project. "Don't simply wait around to be assigned a leadership role," says career coach Heather Huhman, founder of ComeRecommended. "Instead, volunteer to take the lead on a project or share your ideas for a new project with your department. Doing this will help you build your communication skills with your co-workers and managers, along with helping you learn how to manage a team."