5 Ways to Lead When You're Not the Boss

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a mover and shaker. You want to do big things, accelerating yourself (and the organization you work for) forward.

So, what can you do when you may not have that official leadership role you feel like you need in order to make the kind of waves you’d like?

A lot, actually. While you may not hold the title of “leader,” you bring a certain energy and influence to any organization you enter. And that’s what leadership is really all about.

Through small steps like the five I’ve outlined here, you can demonstrate your leadership capability, influence your organization, and eventually set yourself up for future career growth.

1. Ask for Help

Leaders by no means have all the answers. They just happen to be brave enough to seek the answers they need from others.

In her research, Brené Brown found that managers were least likely to delegate tasks to employees who don’t ask for help when they need it. When you ask for help, you’re able to get the support you need in time to reach your goals. When you don’t, you risk failing simply due to the fear of looking incompetent.

Get brave, get help, and get the cool projects you want to work on!

2. Know What You Stand For

Torn between competing priorities? Under a tight deadline and don’t know how to get everything done? Time to get clear on what’s most important by defining your own values as a leader.

But leaders don’t just profess their values, they practice them. When you understand what’s most important to you, you can align your calendar (and your actions) to that.

3. Set Clear Boundaries

In addition to knowing what to prioritize, clarifying your values also helps you refine what to say “no” to. Think quality over quantity here.

When you stop taking on more than you can handle, you show up stronger and wiser for the projects you do want to devote your time and energy to. You’re then able to say what you’ll do and do what you’ll say. And that’s a pretty powerful way to be.

4. Offer Up Your Vision

Leaders see what’s possible and then unify others in order to make the vision a reality. Most of us have a lot of opinions about how to improve things within our organization. Some of these improvements may be big, while others are small, but none of them will make an impact unless we share them.

Find a medium that works for you. Submit a formal written proposal, present a PowerPoint at a meeting, create a shared Google Doc to brainstorm collaboratively, or sketch an idea out on a white board for others to follow. It can look different depending on your leadership style and the work environment you’re in, but whatever the case, share your vision.

5. Listen

Just as you have ideas and a vision to share, so do others. Leaders listen and incorporate ideas from others, because we all have different and valuable perspectives to offer.

Listening, really listening, can be one of the most challenging skills to master. One of the best ways of describing how to truly listen comes from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). CTI explains that there are three levels of listening:

  • Level 1 is internal listening, where the listener is focused on their own thoughts, opinions, and stories.

  • Level 2 is focused listening, where the listener is able to concentrate their attention on the person speaking.

  • Level 3 is global listening, where the listener is aware of the environment and energy between people.

The most effective listening happens at levels two and three. While CTI’s description is for the purpose of training coaches like myself, the same guidelines apply to leaders.

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You don’t have to have the big title to start showing up as a leader at work right now. Start incorporating these actions into your everyday work, and let me know how it goes!