Leadership 101: Leading When You’re Not the Boss

Leadership 101: Leading When You're Not the Boss
Entry level employees in their 20s and 30s rarely occupy official leadership positions or hold responsibility for more than a handful of direct reports. But leadership isn’t always official, and responsibility for others doesn’t always appear in a written job description. If you find yourself faced with a leadership task and no actual authority to help you enforce your edicts (“Because I’m your boss and I said so; that’s why”), you’re not alone. In fact, this is a real challenge for many younger employees, and the sooner you learn how to manage this task, the higher you’ll climb on the ladder of your chosen career. Here are a few tips that can help.

Just jump in.

Don’t be afraid to make attempts or issue statements that might be rejected or ignored. This is the most effective and the fastest way to learn a difficult new task. Take a risk. Make a mistake. When you need something from someone (or a group of people) roll up your sleeves and bring out your moves. Ask politely. Ask rudely. Make a demand. Cajole. Threaten. Bribe. Do whatever seems right for the situation and the moment. If your method doesn’t work, make a note of it and try something else. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to march in, open your mouth, and speak. These are only words, and the worst-case outcome isn’t actually that bad. Now is the best time to learn, and the best way to learn is by doing.

Don’t hide behind someone else’s authority.

Announcing to your team that they’ll need to stay late to re-draft a report can be difficult, for sure. Your words may be brushed off or met with resistance or hostility…but don’t take shelter from that storm by hiding behind your boss or adding a statement like “We have to do this because Janet told us to.” Borrowing a badge of authority might get you through this sticky moment, but it won’t work over the long term. Consider this an opportunity to practice your skills and grow.

Use your voice and body language to deliver your message.

No spoken words are ever just words. When you’re issuing an imperative face-to-face, your words will never contain your entire message. Your listener will also (consciously or unconsciously) be observing and responding to your tone, your facial expression and your posture. Stand behind your statements and believe in the truth of your message. Stand up straight. Make direct eye contact. Don’t let your voice rise in pitch or become a question instead of a statement (As in, “Can you bring me the data before noon? Because I need to put the reports together for the meeting? And the meeting is at three?”) Keep your words calm, direct, and clear.

Don’t badger.

If you issue a command (or a non-negotiable request) and your message falls flat, try again. But don’t use the same ineffective methods over and over again. Change what isn’t working. Nagging and repeating the same failed approach only diminishes the impact of your words. Prepare a second charge, and come at the situation from a different direction.For more on how to make things happen and influence the words, feelings and actions of others in the workplace, explore the career building tools on MyPerfectResume.