Leading When You’re Not in a Leadership Position

Jessamy Amic

Posted: January 16, 2023

Table of Contents

Businesses across the globe are facing a leadership crisis. The 2021 Global Leadership Forecast warns that companies don’t have enough leaders who can lead in an environment of unpredictability and near-constant crisis. Of the 1,700 organisations and 15,000 global leaders surveyed, only 11% said they had a “strong” or “very strong” leadership bench (a company’s capacity to quickly fill critical positions with a talented internal candidate) – the lowest it has been in the past 10 years.

The report highlights that things are so bad, only 47% of critical roles can be filled by current leaders. This brings us to the conclusion that organisations do not have the leaders they need today, or for the future, and something needs to be done about it.

In today’s blog, we look at what business leaders look like in 2023 and beyond. We also touch on the key traits of successful leaders and how anyone can learn to become a leader, not only of themselves but of others.

What is leadership?

Kevin Kruse, author of “Great Leaders Have No Rules”, calls leadership “a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal.” In reality, achieving this social influence and getting others to buy into your goals is created through varying leadership styles – some of which are more successful than others. Here are the ten most prevalent leadership styles:

  1. Democratic – everyone participates
  2. Autocratic – leader makes all the decisions
  3. Bureaucratic – play it by the book and stick to policy
  4. Laissez-Faire – leader delegates decision making
  5. Transactional – rewards and penalties are given for performance
  6. Transformational – inspires change and focuses on big-picture goals
  7. Charismatic – charm your way to encourage performance
  8. Servant – try to please employees above all else
  9. Pacesetting – leads from the front with minimal management
  10. Situational – considers team readiness and the uniqueness of each situation

The verdict is out on how many of these leadership styles bring out the best in people and succeed in facilitating change rather than managing it. Do all these types of leaders have the skills needed to lead in a changing world? Skills such as integrity, communication, encouragement, empathy, authenticity and emotional intelligence?

Opportunities for leadership are everywhere

It may not be immediately obvious how regular employees can step up and take a leadership role, but the opportunities are there. For example, statistics show there’s a shortage of leaders in business (especially in tech, where leaders often lack soft skills), which means bosses are likely to welcome anyone standing up and offering to take some of the reigns. Or, it could be that the company doesn’t have effective leaders to begin with. In this case, there is clearly a gap to be filled.

As we mentioned, leadership is one of the most in-demand power skills recruiters are looking for right now, and forward-thinking businesses will want to nurture this skill among their employees. This gives junior staff the opportunity to take on side projects and lead them to completion, even if they stumble along the way. Also, consider that most employees will be promoted up the ladder, some into top leadership positions as their careers progress. Learning leadership skills now will accelerate that process. A side note here, there is a big difference between management and leadership. A manager makes sure you do something, whereas a leader will make you want to do it. The latter are the people who are in demand.

How to lead from behind

While there are many leadership skills that all good leaders practice – like delegation, communication, and time management – there are others that are more subtle. If you learn to master them, you’ll not only future-proof your career but lay the groundwork for becoming the kind of leader you would look up to.

Cultivate self-leadership

Self-leadership is widely regarded as one of the fundamentals of the leadership development process. First coined by leadership scholar Charles Manz who defined it as “a comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself,” a more modern interpretation comes from philosopher Peter Drucker who describes it as “being a self-leader is to serve as chief, captain, or CEO of one’s own life”. Self-leadership is about setting your own course, following it, and correcting it as you go.

Be authentic

An emerging leadership theory shows employees are done with leaders who never show any signs of weakness. While there are many different leadership styles, the best one is the authentic leader; when the leader is unique to who they are as a person. The theory holds that leaders are most effective when they don’t try to hide or change who they are deep down. These authentic leaders are described as having a “strong back and open front”. That strong back is made up of qualities such as a sense of purpose, strong personal values, self-discipline, and compassion. Need more proof? A study found employees’ perception of authentic leadership is the most important predictor of whether an employee is happy in their job or not.

Develop emotional intelligence

Recent research shows less than 60% of organisations believe their leaders have the emotional intelligence to successfully drive business goals. To be emotionally intelligent means you are aware of your own feelings but also of others and how to handle them empathetically. Emotional intelligence has emerged as one of the most crucial power skills needed to help leaders make better decisions and support their colleagues.

Take initiative and be proactive

According to a recent NACE job outlook survey, initiative is one of the top four traits employers are looking for in candidates. Initiative, or being proactive, is the ability to take action without being prompted. It means asking questions, connecting the dots, starting something new, or jumping at the chance to take on a small leadership role. It doesn’t mean stepping on others’ toes or doing their job for them, but it does mean filling gaps you can clearly see by coming up with suggestions and solutions even when you weren’t asked to.

Learn to lead

As Warren Bennis, author and all-round guru of leadership studies, famously said: “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

The bottom line is that good leadership is one of the most in-demand power skills, and the best thing is it can be learnt. If you’re interested in exploring more, read up on our Leadership Trends to Take Into 2023 and our Guide to Become an Impactful Leader.

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