It’s not uncommon to hear someone on a coaching call say they can’t possibly lead if they are not the boss; if they don’t have the title. What this tells me is they don’t understand the dynamics of influence. I always like to inform them that even if you had the title, if you don’t have influence with the people you lead, you won’t be successful for long.
Because leadership is influence, it is a 360-degree experience. You don’t just influence down to people who report to you; you must influence up to your boss and across to your peers as well. To believe that you can’t lead if you are not at the top is to accept the myth that position or title is what leadership is all about. Another myth that is easy to buy into is the Influence Myth, which says if I were on top, people would follow me. You can give someone a position, but influence must be earned. John Maxwell teaches that leadership is more disposition than position.
Developing Influence Without a Title
If you find yourself in the middle of the organization, and without a title, you can still develop influence. When you build your influence, you will notice how much more effective you will become in everything you do. This speaks to the Law of the Lid from the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” which states that leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness.
If you want to increase your level of influence from the middle of the organization, try these ideas:
- Lead yourself well. This sounds easy enough, but the truth is we often hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. People who lead themselves well manage their time, their energy, their emotions, and their priorities. They have a consistency of behavior that not only influences others positively, it inspires others to be and do more.
- Manage the Tension Challenge. There is a tension we all feel when we are asked to run things, but we are not the person in charge. Whatever authority you do possess is not your own; it’s on loan from whoever is over you. To overcome this challenge, learn what to own and what to let go. Become an expert at finding quick access to answers that will help you resolve challenges.
- Add value to your leader. Just because you are not the titled leader doesn’t mean you can’t compliment and add value to your leader. Begin with developing a good relationship with your leader. Appreciate their strengths and find a way to compliment them where they are weak. Become a student of your boss and find ways to help drive the outcomes they are trying to deliver.
Leading without a title is a great training ground for the time when you will have a title. Because leadership is influence and not a title, everything you do today to increase your influence with those above, below, and across, will be an investment in your leadership future.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.