How to lead without being in management

Leadership is about influence, not your job title.

I think we’ve all heard that there’s a difference between being a manager and being a leader, but what I don’t believe gets talked about as much is what it means to lead if you don’t have a manager title.

I can summarize this newsletter in one sentence, and then we’ll dive in:

Cool! Now that the pull quote is out of the way, what in the world does this mean?

Influence is at the core of all decisions made in a company. It’s easy to assume that your job title is the sole driver of being able to make an impact at your company, i.e. if you have a manager title, people will take you more seriously.

The reality is anyone in a company can drive change by building their influence within their organization. How you show up every day is how you build that influence.

Let's go through some examples of how you can build your influence within an organization.

Leaders know how to think about the bigger picture.

Understanding the impact your work has on the entire organization is key to building influence in this area. Even if you're not specifically responsible for every facet of a larger project, your ability to understand what others are working on and how their work impacts yours and vice versa builds trust within the organization. Make sure you're asking a lot of questions to build the context you need to paint the bigger picture before diving into completing your tasks.

Leaders encourage and amplify others on their team.

Nobody truly works in a silo in an organization. As stated above your work impacts others and their work impacts yours. Understanding where others are contributing and amplifying their voices to be sure their hard work is also being noticed goes a long way with the team. This is especially true in high stress situations where some people on your team will feel more comfortable speaking up on behalf of the team. By amplifying the voices of others on your team, you're acting as a representative for the team and therefore building influence within the company.

Leaders understand their personal strengths and work to improve their weaknesses.

Knowing who you are and what strengths you bring to a team and really leveraging those strengths allows a team to contribute in a much more effective manner. We all, however, have areas where we can all improve, and the best leaders I know whether you have a manager title or not do what they can to identify these weaknesses and use them as opportunities for growth. This means asking for feedback even if that feedback may be uncomfortable and actioning on that feedback. You shouldn't try to fix everything all at once, but you can use the feedback you receive to help establish personal and professional goals to continue to grow in your career as a leader.

Leaders hone their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others and be able to act empathetically and communicate with others effectively. Some people are born naturally with high EQ, but this is always something that everybody should consistently work on. As I mentioned before feedback is extremely important for your own personal growth, but to build your influence this also means giving feedback to others. EQ plays a role here by understanding how your feedback may come across to others and how to speak up and provide constructive feedback in a way that is safe and with positive intent. Working on your EQ also means working on general communication skills with others particularly in periods of high stress and being able to self-regulate your own emotions in a healthy way and regularly adapt to changing circumstances.

I hope you see that none of the above examples require you to be a manager or have some sort of supervisory title. There’s a lot more I can unpack here on showing up as a leader but this should set you off on the right foot.


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