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Lead by actions, not your job title

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Leaders are focused on outcomes, not politics or their position in the hierarchy

Making a distinction between leadership and authority can be transformational. Without authority, all you are left with are ideas and passion. If you’re a leader without authority, who you are is irrelevant. It’s what you’re about that matters.

Authority is contextual and the way leaders behave in the places where they have none can be revealing. Even CEOs have to queue for petrol or coffee, and we’ve all worked for people who felt the need to regularly remind us of their job title or who assess the “value” of the meeting they’ve been invited to by the other attendees’ positions in the organisational hierarchy. There are some managers who, if you took away their authority, position and structural grading, would have very little to offer.

Job titles don’t make you a leader and real leaders don’t need them. A leader without authority doesn’t need organisational position or grading seniority to validate their opinions or contribution. They step out from behind their job title and start being the activity it describes. They create reasons for people to follow than simply because they’re the “teacher”; they move outside a hierarchy to a place focused on outcomes rather than politics.

People follow leaders without authority because they want to, not because they’ve been told to. And people who follow that sort of leader will probably run through brick walls for them.

Lead without authority

● Smile a bit more often and laugh: people are more likely to join you if they think they’ll enjoy themselves
● Waste time once in a while: it will work wonders for your energy and you will see it in your people
● Know your end game and remind people of it. Never stop communicating
● Ask questions of everyone all the time. Ask others what they think
● Start saying “we” instead of “I” to remind people they are all on the journey with you and that what you are doing has meaning for all of you

So it’s not about the cape. Leadership is revealed through actions, not assumed in an outfit or job title.

Lead without authority. It’s adventure, not authority. It’s passion, not power.

Here are some tips for leading without authority. Stop using your job title. Don’t remind us how important you are. Show us why we should follow you and give us a reason to believe in you. If someone asks, describe what you are trying to achieve through the work you do, then ask yourself how inspired you were by the words you used. Because, if you weren’t, don’t expect others to be.

Ask questions. Many leaders think they have all the answers. If you’re leading, your voice is far less valuable than your ears. When we know your ears have been working, we are far more likely to tune our own pair into the words you’re saying.

Less I, more we. Do an I/we audit of your language or ask someone to do it for you. Your words will tell you where your attention is and, if you say “I” more than you say “we”, you’ve probably got a problem. Start flipping it around and see how it works for you.

● This article is adapted from Showing Up. How to Create a Greater Impact at Work by Tim Robson, published by Capstone (£14.99)


Tim Robson runs a training and consultancy practice, working with private and public sector organisations, including a clinical commissioning group


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