I had a professor who specializes in the area of leadership and taught one critical concept concerning leadership:
"Leadership-development begins with self-development, and self-development begins with self-awareness."
Take a moment and reflect upon that statement, asking yourself what he meant and how it applies to you.
To become a great leader, you have to become a great you first. The only way to become a great you is to be aware of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your personality, your default conflict resolution style, your default leadership style, and then commit to develop yourself.
How do you become more self-aware?
1. Self Reflection - Take an honest look at yourself through personal assessments. It can be hard to recognize or admit insecurity, indecisiveness, or other deficiencies. There are some great assessments available online, perhaps even for free. But if you really want to grow, invest in personality profile testing such as DISC or Myers-Briggs. Spend some time with a psychologist who is certified to conduct the assessments and will provide you with professional feedback.
2. Find a Mentor or Coach - We tend to be blind to our own faults, or look at them through rose-tinted glasses. Find someone who is trusted, wise, successful, and a few steps ahead of you in life who will provide honest feedback in a constructive way. Spend time evaluating your interpersonal relationships, discuss difficult decisions, evaluate past mistakes, and glean from his or her life experiences.
3. Read - Leaders are readers. A visit to your library costs nothing. Used book retailers provide inexpensive access to great resources. Even if you purchase books at full retail price, you are gaining access to the greatest minds and leaders on the planet for usually less than $20. I know guys who have spent thousands of dollars to spend one day with a successful coach. Reading books about leadership and personal development will open your eyes and get you thinking in a positive direction.
Be honest with yourself, develop yourself, and you can become a great leader right where you are. You don't have to wait for a position to lead, serve, and influence others. I can assure you, however, that others will take notice of you, and the opportunities will follow.