Achieving Leadership: Even When You Aren't Not in Charge

Most people think of upper management or supervisors when they hear “leadership.” But nothing is inherent to the concept of leadership that says you must be the boss or even manage people.


So, what makes a leader, then? Even better, what makes a good or great leader? Here’s a hint: being a good leader has nothing to do with supervising others.


Opportunities to lead aren’t limited to times when you have formal authority over people. When you step forward and demonstrate leadership, you will contribute value to the project or enterprise–and strengthen your leadership skills.

The management guru Peter Drucker said:

All the effective leaders I have encountered — both those I worked with and those I merely watched — knew four simple things:

– a leader is someone who has followers;
– popularity is not leadership, results are;
– leaders are highly visible, they set examples;
– leadership is not rank, privilege, titles or money, it is responsibility.

What are the characteristics that make a good leader? Below are several ways anyone can leverage influence, even when they lack authority.


Clear & Careful Communication:

Good leaders don’t complain when things don’t go their way. They don’t say yes when they should have said no. They say what they mean and communicate in a way that everyone understands.


Learn to Be Agile and Flexible:

There are many ways to do one thing. Very rarely is there only one way to complete a task. Insisting that something be done only one way limits people from learning and hearing other ideas. I’m sure we’ve all had a micromanager in our past who didn’t understand that concept. Good leaders should ask if “this the wrong way to do it, or is it just a different way?”


Help Others to Be the Hero:

Leaders bring others along with them and share credit for work well done. Leaders don’t look for opportunities to step on others but rather look for opportunities to help others succeed. Remember, a leader is someone who demonstrates desirable characteristics.


Own Up to Your Mistakes:

We all make mistakes. Recognizing that and acknowledging those errors won’t make you look bad. If anything, you will look stronger and provide an opportunity to learn. Additionally, when things take a turn for the worst, ask for help. Panicking and trying to fix everything only make things worse.  


Listen Over Thinking of What You Want to Say:

You may be bursting with ideas and can’t wait until it’s your turn; however, take time to listen to others. It provides an opportunity to learn and hear great ideas. A natural leader will acknowledge that great ideas can come from many sources. Don’t cut people off. Do solicit ideas. Ask questions. You may be surprised at what you learn.


Take Risks, But Be Smart About It:

Many people believe that leaders have a charmed life and have no problems or worries in the world. False. Failure is an essential part of success and provides an opportunity to learn. You’re demonstrating leadership when you acknowledge that the risks are real, but the potential payoff is worth it.

Evaluating the situation, creating a plan, and not blindly jumping in headfirst are all qualities of a great leader.


Don’t Take Things Personal:
Discrimination happens every day in many forms. Accept that it does, and don’t let negative or small-minded people stop you from achieving your goals. Companies are not a university, and the HR department is not your personal counselor. Don’t assume that if someone treats you poorly, they have an issue with you. Generally, you aren’t even part of their thinking process due to biases that existed long before you. Instead, evaluate if what they said or did was justified. If so, change your behavior. If not, don’t let it bother you. After all, who owns the problem? They do.


Don’t Ask for Special Treatment:

Remember everything you learned about being inherently special? It’s wrong. You’re not. I’m not. No one is. So, stop asking for special treatment and exceptions to rules. Working harder and smarter is how you become extraordinary. You will receive special treatment when it’s warranted and deserved. And sometimes you won’t even get it when you earned it.


Say Thank You:

People will work harder, produce more, and provide a better experience to your customers if they feel that what they are doing means something. One of the easiest ways to contribute to others thriving at work is to recognize them.

Stop treading water and waiting on authority or a title change indicative of management. Lead like life depends on it because it does. You don’t need a title to have influence. Influence outweighs authority. And giant leadership depends on influence. The more influence you have today, the more you will have tomorrow.


Choose to start leading today, whether you are in charge or not. It starts right now.

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