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How to Lead If You’re Not the Leader

Bonny Calfy | July 27, 2017

It’s no secret: There are more employees than bosses; more players than captains more citizens than presidents; more followers than leaders. For some, this can be a discouraging realization.

Some may feel unmotivated or unable to effect change without a leadership title. You feel as though your hands are tied. You ask, What can I do? I’m not in charge.

You can do quite a lot, actually.

A Little Power Can Go a Long Way

Accomplishment has little to do with position or title. I love the way Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre put it: True leaders “understand how to maximize their own ratio of ‘accomplishment over authority.’ They must believe it’s possible to do something big with a little dab of power.”

Regardless of how much authority you have, you can make an impact. We all have the capacity to change the office or community we live in. We just need to recalibrate what we believe a leader is.

Learn How to “Lead Up”

It helps if you work for a company with a strong culture around leadership for everyone. For example, Craig Groeschel pastors a large multi-site church where Paycom is based, and he’s intentional about teaching his staff to “lead up.” Leading up is working intentionally to be valuable and influential to the leaders above you.

According to Groeschel, the best way to lead up is to “lighten your leader’s load. Find something that needs doing, and do it. The best team members don’t need to be told what to do because they intuitively find important things to do. If you’re willing to do what others won’t do, you will earn influence others don’t have.”

Make Things Happen

I hope it’s really starting to sink in that leadership is a condition, not a position. Speaker and consultant Kevin Carroll calls us to an even higher level of leadership: to catalyze change. The way he sees it, we can be transactional (I performed the task), or transformational (I changed the task and improved it).

Here are Kevin’s tips for being that kind of catalyzing leader:

  • See opportunities, not obstacles.
  • Allow others to experiment and take risks.
  • Replenish your energy on a daily basis. People need energy from you, and when you have surplus to offer, that’s leadership. People want to be inspired by you.
  • Believe your ideas and actions matter.
  • Be where you are; be present.
  • Be audacious in your dreams.

We’ve covered a lot, and you can continue to study how you can be a leader even when you’re not the boss. But the core takeaway is this: Leadership is a frame of mind. Never feel strangled by a lack of title. Leadership is a condition, a state of mind and a boldness that isn’t dependent on authority. What you do matters; how you impact others matters.

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About the author
Author picture, Bonny Calfy
Bonny Calfy
As Paycom’s recruitment marketer team lead, Bonny Calfy writes about such topics as human capital management, company culture, talent acquisition and career advice. Her brand-awareness efforts at Paycom have included launching Paycom Careers’ blog and social media channels, and producing several recruiting videos, all to help attract top talent nationwide. Outside of work, Bonny enjoys reading, fishing and spending time with her son and husband.