5 Strategies for Leading in the Workplace

Independent of role or title, leaders harness skillful collaboration and empower teams to achieve collective goals.

Lori Staff
By Lori Staff

During the span of your career, you may only sometimes have a leadership title, yet still be asked to lead projects. Leading in the workplace without a title, also known as “Leading without authority,” is a concept that’s gaining traction and was famously highlighted in Keith Ferrazzi’s New York Times bestseller of the same name.

Ferrazzi shows his readers how to lead in the workplace by creating freedom in an organization so people can positively lead and influence others without formal authority. Under this model, management’s traditional hierarchical structure flattens, allowing leaders to naturally emerge. A leadership culture without traditional authority can break down silos and other rigid corporate defensive impulses, creating diversity and innovation. One person’s passion and enthusiasm can inspire others to join an initiative or project without being directed.

Five Strategies for Leading Without Authority

  1. Ask Questions. People who ask questions of colleagues and peers are expressing a sincere interest in these individuals’ issues and concerns. By reflecting on what you hear, you’re seen as someone who values outside feedback.
  2. Exhibit Enthusiasm. People often take great pride in solving business-related problems. Such folks love challenges, and seek to understand their causes and impact before finding solutions. Your enthusiasm for doing the same tells others you’re someone worth following. If you love what you do, let others know why!
  3. Seek Outcomes, Not Titles. Leaders typically rise through corporate ranks — up one notch, then another. There’s nothing wrong with this, unless the motivation is simply the title (and the opportunity to boss others around). One’s response to failure measures character. The ability to bounce back from a mistake signals authentic leadership — hence the maxim, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”
  4. Remember That Everything Is Personal. Human capital is a company’s most important asset. To lead without authority requires empathy — an appreciation that fellow employees lead lives outside the business, with family and health issues, financial stressors, and all the other ups and downs of life. Awareness of others’ feelings — and being a nonjudgmental listener — reflects emotional intelligence that can rally people around you.
  5. Follow the Leader. Recognize leadership qualities in others. By supporting such individuals, you’ll energize others to follow your lead in support of these people. Consequently, your coworkers may come to see you as someone who values the organization’s greater good. Team building is just as important as calling the shots.

At Ideas Collide, we have a program called Leading Forward. Six individuals are chosen annually for a five-month intensive training where they learn and practice techniques to become better leaders. All employees who are interested can apply to the program. As a recent program graduate myself, I can’t wait to take these new skills into my workday.

“Individuals who can bring direction and guidance and unite employees to work as a team can be done at any company level.”

Leading in the workplace without a title can truly change traditional workplace hierarchies for the better. In today’s fast-paced business environment, such old structures are now often seen as growth impediments. At the same time, self-service technologies such as social media, mobility, and the cloud encourage more collaborative activities. In this new environment, leadership becomes increasingly fluid, a project or task successfully led by individuals without formal titles or specific authority. People can rise to the challenge, be confident they have what’s needed, and be empowered to lead out.

We all have varied skills, many of which remain dormant because they’re just not utilized. And by leading without authority, our respective talents can solve problems and lead others toward solutions.

Interested in Learning More?

Work programs or financial limitations shouldn’t stop you from reaching your full potential and learning more about leading without authority. Along with diving into Ferrazzi’s bestseller, continue your learning with these great reads:

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