Podcast

Executive Leadership Podcast #47: How Can I Lead Without A Title? A Listener Question

It can be challenging for natural leaders to find their place on a team without being a position leader. You want to add value to your team and develop your own leadership skills but might not know how to. In Episode #47 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we explore how you can become a leader in your organization without a title.

To cultivate leaders on your team, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.


Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach. And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Today’s topic is titled, “How Can I Lead Without A Title?” or maybe we should say, can you really lead people when you’re not in charge? So we received a question that said they really liked our podcast, but they were not in leadership at their organization. They wondered, hey man, is it really worth my time to continue to invest in learning leadership, invest in developing myself as a leader?

This often comes up in a 5 Levels Workshop. I’ll ask, how many of you are a position leader? You’re a manager, you have people reporting to you. The hands go up. And I’ll say, so how many of you are not? This is really about Level 1. We’re talking about positioning, and you see people in the room go, well wait a minute, I don’t have a position. Is this really for me?

And you know, with the 5 Levels, we really talk about leadership, and this is how John defines leadership. He defines it as influence, nothing more, nothing less. And it is. It doesn’t matter what your title is inside the organization, you have influence with your people. And so, we’re going to talk about it today from a little bit of a 5 Levels perspective. John also has some great content that you and I were just briefly talking about on the 360 Degree Leader and he talks about, hey, how do I lead up? How do I lead across to my peers? And then obviously, you know, how do I lead myself, which is the most important. So, looking forward to this conversation, but man, it’s all about influence. You don’t have to have a title to be in leadership.

Some questions, and it’s all coming from John’s teaching, here are some of the questions we like to ask to evaluate your level of influence with those in your circle, and these are really good for leaders with a title and leaders without a title. One of them that I really like is, how well do people listen to me? You notice, when you’re talking, how people respond to you. Are they actually listening to you?

I think you take this question and where you’re challenged as leaders, you say, how many or why are people not listening to me and I think you begin to look at the other side of that. And here’s a couple of things I wrote down. Is it maybe because they don’t trust you yet? That happens over time. Maybe you don’t have credibility at this time. Maybe you’re not using the right communication style. But really what I want to say in here is that, again, we’re not going to specifically talk about a title, but at Level 2 it’s about connecting with your people. People give you influence. People want to follow you because you have invested in them, you have connected with them.

And so here, I wrote down just a couple of things. Remember, you do not have to have a title to get people to listen to you. Be authentic. Know yourself. Engage them with stories. Now listen to me, when I wrote this down, I was like, hmm, I’m not just talking about everyday stories. People aren’t like, oh, here comes Perry with another story. No. It’s stories that are relevant to what the team’s working on, relevant to the projects that you’re involved in. I wrote down, be present.

Then the last one was to simplify and clarify your message. The reason I wrote that last one down was, how many of us had been around people that didn’t have a title, or did? And, man, when they didn’t simplify or clarify their message, I quit listening to them. Right? What we’re talking about is how are we getting people to listen to us and to the other side. That’s the first one.

Number two, I’m going to throw this to you here. How well is the team performing when you are on it? I find this to be a very interesting question. It speaks, really, straight to Level 3 influence, which is producing results together. You might think, wait a minute, I’m just a member of the team. I’m not the leader of the team. I don’t have a title. I don’t have the position. I’m just on the team. Well, the question people of influence want to know is, is the team better because I’m on it? Is a team better because of my presence and, I always want to know, are you influencing others and influencing performance?

And I think what you’ve got to do is go back and be like, am I in the right seat? Am I in the right seat on the right bus? Am I in a place where I’m adding value to my team? Maybe in an area that only you can add value to. We talk about this as a leader, right? What are things that only you can do for the team that you need to be focused on? And maybe everything else should be delegated to somebody else or you shouldn’t be doing it. And so, I think you’ve got to really question, what is the role that I’m playing? When I talked about self-awareness just a minute ago, do a little bit of an analysis of your impact on the team. How am I contributing to this? Or the team or the department had a win here.

Are we reducing costs or are we increasing revenue by this? What role did you play in that team? Here’s another thing. How many new, innovative thoughts and ideas are you just throwing out? John has the same, he says, hey, as a team member, if you’re invited to the meeting or you’re invited to the table and you’re not adding value to that meeting or that table, you might not be invited back. And so think about the impact. Just really think about what it is that you’re adding value to the and really begin to pour fuel on that and really make the team the best it can be.

All right, so the third one here is how are people responding to you personally, and as you get an intuitive feel for what this is like, what is it that you feel like people are responding to? I call it the caller ID test, and it kind of makes me smile. If my name popped up on their phone and they looked at it, would they take that call or send me straight to voicemail thinking, wow, that’s Perry. I need to take that, or I can take that later. It’s not usually that good. And I thought, you can tell when you’re interacting with people if they want to hear what you have to say or if they’re just waiting to move on to the next thing on their agenda. And like you said, are they engaging, are they involved with that conversation?

I find that to be interesting to know, how are people responding to me, and is my influence good here or do I need to work on something in that area? You gave that illustration and it’s funny because we all do it. Those that are listening right now smile a little bit because you know that you could just be riding down the road and when you see a certain name pop up on your phone, you’re like, yup. Got to go to voicemail, which gives you a little bit of that influence.

The last question is one that I like to ask on coaching calls, especially for people that are leaning on their influence and not on their title to lead. What is the biggest challenge you notice when working with peers, so when you don’t really have power in position? It’s all influence with your peers. I thought always, what are the challenges you face, is anything jumping out at you there?

There’s a couple of things that do when you’re talking about working with your peers, and these may be some things that you maybe see repetitively. They may give you some ‘Aha!’ moments about current concerns where you’re like, hey, my ideas are really never even considered realistic. The tendency for you as an individual and individual contributor when that begins happening is to shut down. I just want to encourage you to keep throwing ideas out there, keep innovating, keep thinking differently. Keep finding your leadership voice. I’d encourage you to not allow the fact that maybe your ideas are never being considered to stop you. That’s the quickest way for you to lose influence, not gain influence.

Here’s one. The boss seems to like other people more than me. You just need to understand that we all are attracted to similar personalities. We talk about personalities and we do a lot of behavioral assessments, studying this. When you have similar wiring as people, there’s a natural attraction and so you kind of gravitate towards each other. And that may be what’s going on. Maybe you have the exact opposite personality as your leader, which is needed on the team, by the way.

What’s going to happen is, there’s a natural tendency to have a disconnect from your leader and for you to immediately sit over here and go, oh, you know, I think they like so-and-so better. What does this look like? I don’t want you to get caught up in that trap because it’s your responsibility to reach out, to be able to connect. Don’t play those mind games, control what you can control. And I think that you’ll see those three things that we kind of just covered briefly. I think you’ll see your influence begin to grow.

I’m always thinking about that one statement John said, I probably saw it 20 years ago. It grabbed me. It says you can’t give what you don’t have and so you’ve got to be pouring into you so you can pour into others. And I’m thinking, if I’m on a team, I don’t have a title. I’m trying to make a contribution. I’m leaning on my influence. What am I doing to make the team better? I’m just a junior person. Well, how are you developing you?

One of the things we ask in the 5 Levels Workshop is at Level 3. What is it from your past performance, from your successes, from the victories you’ve had, what is it that you can leverage to make others better? And I find people trying to do this without having poured into others. People can read that in a moment, that you have no influence. So if you’re pouring into you with the express intent of pouring into other people, people on the team, they notice that because so many people are trying to do things on their own, they’re not trying to help the team, they’re trying to help themselves. You said, no, I’m here to serve and to take our team to the next level. I want to be around people like that.

You know, if you think about and unpack some of the things that we just talked about and you do it without a title, here’s what happens. And I’m going to summarize this thought because I think that personal growth is something that we need to really continue to focus on. Because what we want to do is we want to be adding value. We want to be growing ourselves. We want to be adding value to the team in a way that when an opportunity comes available for the next titled position, whatever that might be, it almost becomes a no brainer. It almost becomes, oh, that makes sense, right? Perry, man, look what Perry’s been doing and look at the value, look at the influence that Perry has. Look at the people that are listening to Perry, look at how he communicates and how he’s contributing.

And so there’s an opportunity for a new position, a new leader, a new director, whatever it is. It’s almost like, oh yeah, that’s Perry’s spot, right? He’s already been doing that. Which by the way, that happens a lot in corporate America, right? People are doing a lot of different jobs and getting paid for one. But if you have that focus, especially when you are at that place in your journey where you’re like, you know what, I don’t have a title and I’m really questioning these three areas. I really want you to just remember that.

The other thing we talk about in 5 Levels is that, you know, Level 2, for me, is the foundation to all success as a leader. It’s about connecting. It’s about building relationships with people. And you don’t have to have a title to do that. And then we talk about it in Level 3, around the production. You don’t have to have a title to produce for the organization or the department or the team. And then at Level 4, we talk about investing in other people, personally and professionally. You don’t have to have a title to do that.

That’s why John’s definition of leadership is so powerful, because you don’t have to be a leader. You know what’s sad is that too many leaders mistake the definition of leadership. You have an opportunity, even without a title, to be able to influence people and add value to people through relationships, through producing as a team, as a peer and then through adding value to them personally and professionally. So just keep that in mind from the 5 Levels leadership. You don’t have to have a title to have influence.

Great reminders as always and just reminding you, our listeners, if you’d like to know more about the 5 Levels of Leadership, I’ll direct you back to Podcast #1. Chris does a fantastic outline of all the 5 Levels. If you’d like to learn more about it, you can leave us a question or a comment at the JohnMaxwellCompany.com/podcast. We love hearing from you and as always, we’re just so grateful that you follow along with us. And that’s it for today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.