In my long career in Human Resources (and now as a coach) I am frequently asked how to climb into the leadership levels of an organization. Often when I inquire about the reasons why someone would like to move into leadership there are very good reasons why they’d like to contribute at the level. However, when I ask people to articulate for me in one paragraph why they feel they would make a good leader I don’t receive anything back from them. In the follow up I’m often told that they don’t really know the answer to that as they were waiting to be given the role before they could say why they’d be good at it (assuming someone one else would see their great qualities and invite them to be one).
Sound familiar? This also takes the form of “I need to have permission to contribute at that level” or “I’d like the promotion first to know what my leadership duties are so I can perform them”. For many of these individuals they are not aware that there are two kinds of leadership; implied leadership and established leadership. Implied leadership also goes by the name of “leadership without authority” and is essentially the ability to positively apply leadership qualities to a working environment without the “consent” or invitation from others to do so. This does not mean you are to establish work priorities or assign work, but does mean you are able to use interpersonal communication effectively to support others in the working environment while also being effective in your role. Any one can do this and you do not need permission.
So how does this work? Basically you are there for the working community within your sphere of influence. A sphere of influence encompasses those individuals (at all levels) with whom you interact over the course of your work. Your support of this working community is present in the way you listen, respond and interact with others. As an example, lets say you listened to a colleague on another team complain about how understaffed they are and that the priorities that have been set are at risk of being missed because of this concern. Later you speak to another colleague in a different part of the organization who is concerned he may be let go because the work in their area has slowed down. You’ve been a great co-worker in listening carefully and applying a measure of empathy to these two individuals. You’d be a great leader by determining who in your sphere of influence would be the best contact to share that there is an opportunity to alleviate a potential concern in two areas of the organization. It’s a risk, but by putting the idea out there (and in the hands of the appropriate people to make decisions) you are contributing to the organizations ability to move forward in a more effective way. Sometimes these ideas are actualized, and sometimes they aren’t. The point is not to have the organization follow your guidance, but to enable the organization to take a look at areas of concerns, or other impediments, enabling them to have deeper conversations and plan for changes that make sense.
This is but one example of implied leadership at work. Cast your mind back and think of the times when you had an opportunity to bring something forward with the potential to enable something more for your team or your origination. Did you do it and if not, why not? If you were waiting for permission then you’ve failed a key leadership trial. It is often said that leaders are born, the implication of this being that you either have leadership skills or you don’t. What you chose to do with the unique perspective you have is where you have an opportunity to be a leader. There is also a palatable difference between management and leadership. Management skills can be taught; there are whole schools and programs dedicated to teaching us how to effectively manage specific resources, time, etc. However, leadership is separate from management, a key difference being you do need authorization to effectively exercise management – management is role based where as leadership is behavior based. We are all in charge of our behaviours - roles (on the other hand) are in the realm of the organization to allocate.
Exercising implied leadership is a great opportunity to hone leadership skills, so that when you are in a position of established or expressed leadership you already have the behavioural parts of the role figured out. Successful leaders can articulate and lead others into something that is bigger then themselves by sharing a well thought-out vision. They are those people who are able to foster and reinforce fair and ethical practices in their organizations that lead to an organizational culture that supports positive work experiences. Successful leaders are also those who lead by example and lend their strong voice when it is important to do so (even if it is not comfortable for them to do). Do you need to be in management to accomplish these things? No, you don’t – it may help to get you an audience, but even established managers and leaders have to continually earn their audience’s respect and the successful ones do so by exercising leadership. How will you exercise your leadership skills?
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.