How to Lead without Authority
With a title that says you’re the big cheese, you can issue orders, directives, guidelines, and advice—and people have to pay attention. Lacking formal authority means you have to use other means to get people to consider your recommendations, heed your advice, and follow your lead. And that’s not so bad, because the traits that will help you lead—and be seen as a leader—in the absence of formal authority are traits that will inspire followers even if you aren’t pursuing a formal leadership role.
For example, you should develop relationships not just with the people on your team but also with those in neighboring teams and elsewhere in the organization. People tend to trust people they know more than those they don’t know. So spend a little time getting to know your colleagues before you attempt to lead them. Show an interest in their goals, aspirations, fears, and concerns.
Become a skilled listener. In this busy, dizzy world, hardly anyone takes the time to truly listen to others. By showing that you’re the exception, you can gain the support of others. So, turn off your digital distractions. Pay attention to what others are saying when you converse with them. Ask questions. Focus on what you’re hearing. Listen and show that you’re listening.
Generate the support of others by doing your homework. For example, before meetings at which you want to advance an important idea, talk one on one with the people who will be attending. Learn their perspectives. Pay attention to their needs and concerns. You’ll then be able to address these issues at the meeting. And the fact that you gave personalized attention to the attendees beforehand will add to your authority.
Whether in one-on-one conversations or talking with a group, aim to project an air of confidence. Don’t hem. Don’t haw. Don’t cower as though you’re ready to turn and run. At the other extreme, don’t act like an arrogant know-it-all. Coming across as confident yet humble may entail some practice, but it will make you someone others look to for ideas and input.
The traits of good leaders can help you even when you’re not in a leadership position. So learn all you can about these traits, such as treating people with respect, behaving with honesty and integrity, exhibiting optimism, showing enthusiasm for your work, and communicating early and often. Numerous websites focus on the traits of successful leaders, such as this one that provides a mighty long list of the physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and other traits of effective leaders.
Want a shorter list? Follow the four easy strategies in this post: Lead with questions. Lead by taking responsibility. Lead by answering why. And lead with enthusiasm. Even if the organization chart doesn’t list you as a leader, you’ll definitely have followers.