When I was younger working in different organizations, I wanted to be a leader. I thought to myself, “If I could just become a manger, then I would be a leader.”
However, my whole mentality was wrong.
First, just because you are in a management position (or a specified “leadership” position for that matter), it doesn’t mean that you are a leader or that people will follow you. Those don’t equate to leadership by itself.
Second, you don’t have to be in a position to be able to lead. Leadership is a skill that anyone can learn, and it’s based off influence.
If you want to lead others and move people toward a goal, but you don’t have the “position”, this article is for you.
Let’s look at how to lead without position or authority.
Build influence with others
Influence is a key foundation of leadership. Without it, you can’t lead.
What is influence?
Influence is the respect and relationship you have with and from your team that causes them to want to work with and for you.
This is the key to why you can lead without a position. Anyone can build influence , whether they have a position or not. In fact, if you are in a position and using your authority and position to push what you want, you aren’t leading, you are forcing.
The question then is, how do you build influence?
Many of these other tips are part of what you need to do to build influence (and you can also check out our article on building influence here).
A key part of influence and of leading is to be someone who is trustworthy. If people don’t trust you, they aren’t going to follow you.
You need to be a person who, when you speak, they know it’s the truth. When you say you are going to do something, you will get it done.
They need to trust that when they say something to you in confidence, you will keep it in confidence.
They need to know, too, that you will act ethically and morally and won’t cut corners in a moment’s notice.
Be a go-to person (be reliable and competent)
Be someone that people can rely on. Be a person whom they know will get the work done and get it done well.
Be a person that people can go to if they need help or need something done well. This doesn’t mean you never say no or aren’t careful about what you prioritize or say yes to, it just means people know that when they come to you, if you do it, it will be done and done well (or, depending, they can rely on your advice because the work you do is quality).
If you aren’t competent and reliable in your work, people may see you as a nice person, but it will hurt your ability to influence and lead.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t start leading when you are new to a position or that you won’t make mistakes. Building influence takes time, and mistakes are part of life – it’s if you learn from them and work to not make them again that matters.
Be the first to speak or stand up
This doesn’t mean that you race people to respond. However, you’ve probably experienced those meetings or situations where a question is asked or a volunteer is needed, and everyone is waiting for someone to speak up or stand up first.
After someone else goes, then they may get up and speak or do it.
Don’t wait. Be the first one who stands up and speaks, and people will begin to see you more as a leader and think well of you for that.
Speak up when you don’t know something
Similarly, when you don’t know something, don’t pretend or hide that you don’t know.
For one, it’s a great way to learn. You should never stay dumb because you are afraid of looking dumb. You only have to ask the “dumb” question once.
Also, when you don’t know something, often, others don’t know either. They are just afraid to say so.
When you speak up and ask, people respect you for that and often give you a silent “thank you” for asking when they didn’t.
Serve, help, and support others in their interests (help others win)
Sometimes we want to pursue a certain goal or direction, so we just try to convince others to go with us.
That may work, occasionally, but that’s often not the best route to take.
One of the best ways to build that influence with others and get them to support you is to support them first.
Find out what their interests are and what they are trying to accomplish. If you can help them win and achieve what they are after, they will much more likely follow you and help you accomplish what you want as well.
Align your interests
More than that, if you can help people see how your interests align, how what you are trying to accomplish benefits and helps what they are trying to accomplish, then you are even more likely to get people to follow you in what you’re trying to do.
Put the team and mission over self
This doesn’t mean you are a pushover.
What it means, though, is that when people see that you aren’t self-seeking and aren’t just about yourself, that you are about helping others and accomplishing the mission first, then that will increase the likeliness of them willingly following you.
Be a team player
On the same note, be a team player. You aren’t focused on yourself. You give the help and support others need. You do your part (and more). You serve. You contribute.
In meetings, you aren’t about what you have to say (not that you don’t speak up when you should), but you are also about listening to others and drawing out other people’s viewpoints.
You have a mentality of listening and curiosity. You listen well, validate other people’s viewpoints and concerns, and make people feel heard. You collaborate well with others and involve them in decisions or the like where applicable.
You are not about arguing and defending your position. You are about the best idea, not your idea.
When things go well and you are praised, you give credit and share it with the team, noting all of their contributions. You don’t try to take the credit yourself.
When others do well, you don’t get jealous, you celebrate their wins and even call them out for them.
You show appreciation toward others for what they do.
When people think about someone they trust and who is the biggest team player, they should think about you.
Build relationships and care about others
A big part of influence is building those relationships and caring about them.
If you don’t care about them or take the time to get to know about people, your influence will be severely limited. You will have a hard time leading others, as people won’t want to follow you.
Volunteer to lead (and support others when they do)
When opportunities for projects or similar pop up, be one who volunteers to lead and do it (and then lead the project well).
On top of that, when you are with others and someone else is leading, support that person. Help them lead well, and that looks good on you.
You can lead without a position and without authority
Let’s summarize what we just talked about and bring it together:
Leadership is a skill that anyone can learn, and it’s built off influence. To lead, what you need to do is to build influence with others.
To do that, you need to be someone people can trust. You need to be about helping others, not serving yourself. You need to be competent and reliable.
On top of that, speaking up, helping others win, and so on, builds your influence and makes people more willing and wanting to follow you.
Does that make sense?
You can lead from wherever you are at. Just be a person people can trust and build influence with the people you want to lead.
Want to learn more about how to build influence? Check out this article here.