As a leader, it's your job to take the reins and inspire change. But you can't reach your full potential unless you challenge yourself. And by setting high expectations--and striving to meet or exceed them--your productivity-boosting mentality can become contagious.

Fortunately, I've been able to surround myself with leaders who consistently challenge themselves and motivate me to do the same. My co-founder was 22 when we started our company. Being slightly older, I initially thought I knew more than I actually did. But seeing her constant desire to improve inspired me to never stop finding ways to grow and educate others.

Becoming an effective leader isn't a one-time goal. As you continue to brave uncertainty and build confidence in your abilities, challenge yourself both personally and professionally with these simple steps:

1. Start writing. Writing sounds basic, but putting pen to paper isn't always easy. It takes time, which often comes at a premium. When you have a spare moment, try to write and share your expertise. Actively thinking about your experiences and opinions can serve as a self-coaching session. But don't write on a huge variety of topics; write more about less. This forces you to think deeper into a specific topic and challenge your beliefs.

To get the ideas flowing, ask yourself what's important to write about. What does your audience need to know? Where are new industry trends taking your company? I recently wrote an article about emerging marketing trends, which forced me to think about how they will affect our company. As a result, I've implemented several processes to help us stay ahead of the curve.

2. Narrow your expertise. The people who stand out are those who have built a reputation as the best. Challenge yourself to be the most knowledgeable in your discipline, and people will start to naturally think of you when seeking industry advice or thoughtful commentary. But don't get caught up in the same dry topics or you could drive readers away. Apply your expertise as a cornerstone to talk about a variety of different topics.

3. Constantly crave feedback. Gauging your performance through the eyes of others is one of the best challenges--and often the most uncomfortable. That's why people tend to shy away from it, especially when they don't deliver. Take feedback not as an opportunity to earn approval, but as a chance to turn a perceived weakness into a strength.

4. Be honest with yourself. Write down five skills you think are vital to the success of your company. Then, grade yourself on each. As you assess your abilities, take into account not only your own expectations, but also the expectations others might place on you. Once you have an idea, determine how you can improve the skills that don't make the grade.

5. Set lofty goals. Some people will tell you to only set obtainable goals. But these are rarely challenging. Instead, shoot above obtainable. You'll be surprised what you're capable of.

6. Choose the road not yet traveled. I find it interesting when a company does exactly what its competitors are trying to accomplish in the marketplace. Following is no way to lead, so look for unexplored areas in your industry to help differentiate your company from the competition.

7. Never stop learning. Adopting a student mentality pushes you to become a master of your craft. Our team consistently shares articles with one another in areas that will help us educate and challenge ourselves. When you discover new ways of looking at industry trends or norms, don't keep them to yourself. Share this knowledge with your team so they can learn and adapt.

As you raise the bar for yourself, your team members will inevitably follow suit. Trust me; it's contagious. And over time, your team will take on a collective mindset that can bring your company to new levels of success.