It’s a question and/or statement I hear some version of an awful lot.
“I want to lead, but I’m not a manager.”
“How can I lead when I’m not a manager?”
It’s not a bad question to ask and think through, and I admire folks’ sincere desire to develop their leadership skills.
The thing that’s important to understand, though, is that while it may be tempting to think that the time prior to having a management position is the time when you don’t really have to focus as much on leadership skills, nothing could be further from the truth. At least if you’re wanting to continue to grow and develop as a leader, that is.
Many of you have heard me say something like this a time or twelve, but one of the very first things I typically ask folks who are interviewing for or thinking about putting in for their first management position is…
“What are you already currently doing to lead on your current team?”
You see, the best candidates for leadership positions are…well…leaders. And leaders…lead, whether they have an official title or not. So when I ask that question, I’m wanting to know what they’re already doing to demonstrate leadership on their teams, even though they don’t have a title.
Here are some ways you can show leadership without having a title.
You can show leadership by developing your coaching skills.
There are a few things you can do related to this. You can rethink accountability. You can study coaching and develop your own coaching model. You can ask your manager to walk you through theirs. You can do some role play scenarios. And you should certainly pay tons of attention during your own coaching sessions.
You can show leadership by developing others.
Whether you do this formally by becoming a subject matter expert that your organization utilizes as part of their formal organizational development programs, or informally by coming alongside your teammates and teaching and training them on things, you can and should be consistently looking for opportunities to invest in the growth of others.
You can show leadership by building community.
Always be thinking about ways to build community on your team and across the organization, and take the initiative to make those things happen to the extent you’re empowered to do so. If you’re not sure if you’re empowered to do so, get with your manager, pitch your idea, and ask if you can lead and make it happen.
You can show leadership by focusing on helping others succeed.
Instead of doing what most people do, which is focusing on making themselves shine, do something that seems a bit counterintuitive: find ways to help others succeed. That’s what leaders do.
— Matt Monge (@MattMonge) January 24, 2016
You can show leadership by getting stuff done.
This one may seem curiously obvious, but it really does separate leaders from talkers. Lots of folks talk about leading. Or talk about doing stuff. Leaders — with or without titles — actually get stuff done. This is especially powerful if it involves working together with your teammates to accomplish something together.
You can show leadership by making it easier for others to get things done.
You could do this in any number of ways. Maybe it’s a communication fix. It could be a process improvement. Whatever it is, one of the things leaders do is make it easier for their teams to make things happen.
— Matt Monge (@MattMonge) February 6, 2016
You can show leadership by serving your team.
Be generous with your knowledge, time, energy, and expertise. Make your leadership a vehicle for service, not a vehicle for a promotion. Believe me, everyone will know the difference.
You can show leadership by asking more questions.
But make sure there’s a purpose for them. Leaders ask questions to help people think, find out how they can serve, learn more about things, learn more about people, and so on. Questions like:
- How can I help with this?
- What can I do to help our team get better?
- What specific knowledge and/or skills should I work on developing to better serve my teammates and the organization?
- You’re really good at __________. Can you help me get better at it?
- Can you help me understand why we do this?
You can show leadership by taking responsibility.
This will set you apart. While many within the workplace will do almost anything to blame anyone and everyone for things, be the one who takes responsibility. Step up and take ownership of problems. Find resolutions. Whine less. Work more.
You can show leadership by being a force for good on your team.
Every single person within an organization has influence. Some use it for good. Others don’t. Some people on teams breathe life and energy into their teammates. Others are an incessant source of negativity, drama, and gossip. Leaders — whether they have a title or not — rally the team around positivity and invest in pushing them forward.
So here’s the thing: You can lead. Right now. From right where you’re at. Regardless of what your job description says.
It’s up to you.