Monday, 13 April 2009

How to lead when you're not the boss...

As organisations become flatter, people may be leading teams where they have no formal authority.

In a recent article on Harvard Management Essentials, Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay summarises the five steps to leading when you're not the boss:

1. Establish goals

People perform their best when they have a clear set of objectives. It follows that the group's first task is to write down exactly what it hopes to avheive. The person who asks "Can we start by clarifying our goals?" - then assumes the lead in discussing and drafting those goals - is automatically taking a leadership role, whatever thier position.

2. Think Systematically

Most people plunge straight into the topic at hand and start discussing what to do. Effective leaders learn to think systematically. They gather and layout the necessary data, and analyse the causes of the situation, proposing actions based on this analysis. In this situation, leaders help keep focusby asking appropriate questions. "Do we have everything we need to analyse this situation?"

3. Learn from experience - when it's happening

Teams often plow ahead, then conduct a review at the end to understand what they've learn't. However, it's more effective for the teams (or individuals) to learn as they go along. Anyone who prompts the group to engage in the regular mini reviews and learn from them is playing a defacto leadership role.

4. Engage Others

Suggest writing down a list of chores and matching them up with individuals. If no one wants to take on a particular task, try brainstorming ways to make the task more desireable or more interesting. Make a point of asking individuals who have not contributed for their thoughts and ideas.

5. Provide Feedback

Even if you're not the boss you can provide feedback by simply saying "I thought you made a great comment about XXX". Sometimes you can take this further by helping people through coaching. Offer suggestions for improvement, but take time to explain the observation and the impact that it has".

You can read the full article by clicking here Harvard Business Essentials.


Gary Clayton said...

Looks like an excellent article in Harvard Business Essentials and I like your summarization. However, my belief is that there is no difference between leading when you are the boss and leading when you are not the boss.

The bottom line is that leadership is about getting someone to do what you want done because he/she wants to do it. Leadership is an everyday skill that should be used in many situations. I wrote about that at

Jody said...

In essence, it seems as though the question focuses on Influence without Authority. There are wonderful responses above regarding the personal traits leaders should have, however, their implemention is what results in influence without authority and that can be summed up in Relationship Management. Matrix/Complex organizations have shown us that in order to lead and influence in these situations, the critical components are to (sincerely) build and maintain relationships that focus on valuable exchanges (valuable in the eyes of the other) that begin with alignment, finding common purpose, working collaboratively and for results that have benefit to all concerned. Combining the traits that Peter and Stephen wrote above (the who I am as a leader) with the how I work (implementing it through valuable exchange and relationship management) is a winning combination for "leading when you are not the boss" or influence without authority.

Manuel Landron said...

Any de facto leader is as responsible as any ex officio leader to set the example despite the potential challenges associated with a lack of authority. Whether or not you are the boss is irrelevant. In any group, large or small, you lead because people respect you enough to let you lead. You gain said respect by setting an example for others to emulate. What example are you setting?

GMS Talent said...

Kouzes and Pozner, authors of the book Leadership Challenge, surveyed managers around the world to determine the most admired qualities of leaders. Consistently among the top five were; Forward looking, Competency, Honesty and Inspirational. You are not required to be in a leadership role to exhibit either of those four qualities

Deborah said...

I also think that true informal leadership is bestowed. It certainly makes sense to initiate topics and reviews as the blog suggests, but I have found success in then giving the group an opportunity to turn to you as an indication they accept your leadership. This is accomplished by engaging others in discussion and doing a little hanging back to see how the group responds. It's too easy to make the mistake of dominating a group interaction and not be completely clear on who they want to lead. The blog certainly didn't suggest dominating discussions. I have just found that a little hanging back once having spoken up gains respect from others in the group. This is a very interesting topic!

Chris Newman said...

Leadership can take many forms. However, being authentic is probaby the most important characteristic if you really want to take people with you on whatever journey you are planning. People may follow for other reasons (fear, money etc) but this does not make you a true leader. Real respect and followership comes from being genuine & leading by example (both of which create influence). You can be a leader without having a team that reports to you.

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