Being a Leader When You’re Not in Charge

Leading when you're not in charge

How to be seen as a leader even if you’re not the boss.

How many of you aspire to lead – even if you’re not in charge? Some of my clients who are working for that next promotion, or being assigned that next big project will ask me “what can I do so that I can move into a position of leaderhip?” There ARE certain behaviors that you can practice so you can be seen as a leader even if you’re not the boss.

In Karl Albrecht’s book, Social Intelligence, he talks about two types of authority – formal authority, in which you hold a position of power, such as a president, chairman, or teacher. That gives you a certain range of authority to run the show. The other type is earned authority – which doesn’t come from your position or title, but instead, by behaving in ways that allow you to influence others. You might have certain knowledge or skills, or ideas that can help the group move in a desired direction, and they begin to look to you for leadership.

So how do you start to ‘earn’ authority? Think of the best leaders you’ve followed. Maybe it was your boss, or a person in your volunteer group. Why did people do what they wanted? How did they influence the group? Albrecht offers up a formula for five types of leadership behavior he calls S.P.I.C.E.

The S stands for ‘skills.’ If you know how to do something no one else in the group can do, your expertise can put you in a position of leadership. Organizational skills, technical skills, and even social skills can earn influence in the minds of those around us. What are your certain skills or strengths that people look to you to perform?

The P stands for ‘procedures.’ Does your group or workplace sometimes get stuck in process? (Side note – I live in Seattle, where process has been taken to a high art. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing in city government gets done without taking the ‘process’ to the nth degree). Process can be like being stuck in the muck. There’s no direction. Everyone wants to be heard, there’s no consensus, people argue and nothing moves forward. If you can help get the process moving – maybe by asking the group what it hopes to accomplish and kindly ask some questions to get thing back on track – you’ve taken on the role of leader, even if only temporarily.

The I stands for ‘information.’ What information do you need to solve a problem? Do you have it? If you don’t, where do you get it? If you have the information that’s needed, or know how to find it to bring it back to your group or organization – you’re going to earn ‘leadership points.’

The C stands for ‘consensus.’ If you’ve ever been in a meeting that seems to have no conclusion — this is where consensus comes in. We used to joke at one of my former TV stations where I worked that the call letters stood for ‘Keep On Meeting On.’ (I’ll let you figure out which station!) Sometimes it takes one person to summarize what’s been accomplished, what still needs to be done, and assign who has what action step to take. If you can be the person to help the group reach a consensus, or decision – this is another way to earn ‘leadership points.’

The E stands for ’empathy.’ You could describe this as team spirit, or the feeling of collaboration. The person who can help develop that collective team spirit – even when things get heated – and guide it back to a positive outcome while maintaining relationships within the group, is a leader.

One point as you begin to practice these behaviors, consider your motivation for leadership. It’s not about power and control, but about being helpful, and genuinely concerned about the people you are working with to help the group or company move forward. I’m sure you have a story or two about someone you’ve worked with who was ‘power hungry’ and only cared about themselves and rising to the top. Use your power for good!

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams (American 6th U.S. President (1825-29), eldest son of John Adams, 2nd U.S. president. 1767-1848)

I’d love to hear your thoughts about your leadership journey – what’s inspired you? What practices and behaviors have helped you develop your leadership capabilities, even if you’re not in charge?


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