When you sit with ideas and you want to go places – it is often one of the hardest tasks to figure out how to lead without authority. Good leaders know they should unlock the potential of people by giving them the relevant authority to achieve objectives – but what happens when you are in an environment in which this is challenging at best?
Some people march into an office and insist that they are given a chance – but often this has the outcome of being a major career-limiting move.
One of the most interesting aspects of leadership is to figure out how to lead when you do not have authority. The frustration of not being able to express your ideas and creative abilities often limits the potential you see yourself having in an organisation.
To overcome the lack of authority it is not difficult but requires some planning and sincere hard work.
One of the most important realisations that you may need to make is that there is nothing special about leadership. There is no special formula or technique, or badge that turns you into a leader. A leader leads in any situation that requires it. Empirical studies over time have confirmed that leaders emerge out of every situation – even when leadership is formally repressed.
The second realisation that is important is that you are a leader in everything that you do. Right now – you have certain tasks and responsibilities and the best way to get the recognition, as a leader is to lead within the parameters of what you have in front of you right now. Great leaders ask questions that include how to involve others, what have we overlooked, how can we improve, what does success look like and how can we use what we have to help others? By starting to ask some of these questions and acting on your responses – you start building real leadership capabilities. Try it.
The third realisation is that leaders are great at understanding and communicating why we do what we do. You need to understand why what you are doing is important and how this impacts the rest of the organisation and ultimately the client. By talking about it and showing this insight you begin positively influencing others and creating a deeper understanding and inspiration for others.
The fourth realisation is that you need to build networks and it does not help to be defensive. Leaders are enthusiastic and passionate about their objectives and not passive / aggressive people that pounce on people for even asking. So you need to build relationships with others that can contribute to your area. A key measure of leadership is if others will respect your opinion on a specific matter. In order to have the respect of others you need to know them as well as them to know you.
The fifth realisation is that you need to start with the end in mind. Once you know where you are going – you can work backwards to where you are now. As a leader without authority – you need to start thinking about where this is going and what it is going to look like when it is in an ideal or perfect state. Trying to figure out the next step takes a lot of energy if you do not know where you are going. But taking the next step when the end goal is clear is very easy. Your track record will create the advancement that you require.
Some useful do’s and don’ts in the leadership game includes:
- Do not be tentative. By having a good understanding of how something works – you should be able to confidently address this area. Your language may betray your lack of confidence through phrases such as “probably”, “correct me if I am wrong”, “I guess”, “hopefully”, “I may not be right”. Leaders are decisive because they understand what the implications are of their decisions.
- Be like a consultant. Consultants seek first to understand the problem, then frame a diagnosis, then move to suggesting a solution and then through building linkages they unlock potential. Leaders need to find the solutions or bring together the people that can find the solutions and then create and follow-up on actions from there. Consultants also take objections and make it part of the solution, by learning from the ideas of what will make a solution acceptable – they build wide acceptance of ideas.
- Don’t over-apologize. Everyone can have a point of view – and there is no reason to apologize for having one.
- Be humble. Confidence and humility seems like two enemies but they actually meet in great leaders. Make others the hero’s and keep telling their stories.
- It is important to understand the detail – but not great to talk about all the detail. You must focus the message you want to deliver around a topic and always take into consideration what you want to say to the audience you are targeting.
- Building and do not break down other people. You will need to work with the ideas of others and find ways in which ideas can come together if you want to be a great leader. Great leaders find the contributions that change the game from unexpected places.
- Do not lead from afar. Leadership is hands dirty work where you get involved. People also need a sense of safety and they will turn to a leader to provide it to them. It is important to set the goals and also work with the strengths of people in any situation. A strong center leads to a good effort.
To highlight the idea of leading without authority – it may be interesting to highlight a story to show how this plays out.
There is a story of a man that built houses for his master. He was generally a good worker and had worked as his master’s builder for many years. His master came to him and gave him the opportunity to build a house like none of the ones he had built to date. The master was about to retire and this was his legacy. The builder was to use the best materials to build a magnificent structure, a palace fit for a king.
The builder begrudgingly took the work – while the master went on a long journey. The builder took every opportunity to cut corners and bought inferior materials, pocketing the difference at every turn. He messed up on the foundations and every night in his drunken state begrudged the master for making him do this after so many years of loyal service.
Whenever the master’s representative came he gave good reports and happily accepted the further advances and instructions of the master – while not acting on it. He told the workers that inferior work is okay and that this house is basically a waste of time.
When the house was finally complete the master came back home and called for a great feast. In the feast he announced his retirement and handed over the building business to his servant and to thank his loyal and trusted builder for all the work he did for many years. As a gift he gave him the palace that he built on his behalf, to serve as a monument to all for the future. That night when the builder went home he feared for his life, as he knew what he had built. The building business collapsed soon thereafter.
This story highlights that we all have an opportunity to lead in every situation. How we use this opportunity makes all the difference.