How To Be The Leader When You’re Not the Boss

Somewhere along the line we got this impression that being a leader meant being a boss. Or that being a boss made you a leader. I’m in-charge, so I am a leader. I’m not in-charge, so how can I lead?  Talk about twisted thinking.

Fortunately, modern business and organizational thinking has turned that notion on its head (if it had one to begin with of course) and doing so begins by more accurately defining leadership. So, let’s do that:

Leadership is the desire and ability to make people better.

Leadership is not being in-charge, being the boss or being the manager. Many bosses and managers are in those roles for reasons that have little to do with making anyone better at anything (except maybe in identifying bad bosses and managers.)

Becoming a leader starts with desire, and it’s not a desire to be in-charge! No, it’s a desire to find out what people around you, ahead of you or behind you, don’t want to do or don’t know how to do; to be a leader you have to get good at reading these things, not in judgement (or to make yourself feel superior) but in an earnest desire to serve others. Leadership is about surrender not authority.

Now, some things simply aren’t possible or practical for you to go out and do for someone else: a nurse learning how to do a surgery that the doctor doesn’t care to do or doesn’t know how to do is a bad, bad idea. But the technology or scheduling challenges that the doctor has trouble with? Now you’re talking.

The ability to make people better is the next step. You must have the resourceful nature of a problem solver, a multi-level thinker. And guess what? We all have that ability when desire is present.

And this level of resourcefulness doesn’t require you to be the person that comes up with the breakthrough answer every time. You just need to be the someone who finds the someone. Often time leadership is about being the connector, not the practitioner.

In my 30+ years of leading at Shamrock Home Loans I can say that we’ve rarely promoted someone into a leadership role. More often, someone has been so impactful in making people around them better that they were the one and only choice the team wanted to be the boss, the manager, the one in-charge.

So, take a good look around your company or organization and nurture a desire to find out what people are struggling to know or to do. Then go solve it. Either on your own or by finding people that can. It won’t be long before a team of people will be doing the same for you and your circle of leadership will be complete.

Everyone wins when a leader gets better.

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