What is a leader, except someone who other people choose to follow? And what does it mean to follow, but to be motivated to act in the same way as someone else. Leadership is the combination of inspiration and direction. You don’t need a title to influence other people’s behavior and feelings. Every one of us influences others and in so doing helps creates our environment. While the culture and direction of an organization is obviously impacted by a few top-level leaders, we cannot discount the power of people at all levels to shape them. People with powerful personalities are easy to call to mind, but even people who fly under the radar can have a reaching and lasting influence. People who lead without position power do so through some other form of influence. They possess some attractive attribute or fervent belief that ignites something in others. Connection, clarity, and character are some of these qualities.
Some people have the ability to shape the culture of a place, simply through their small acts of compassion and caring. By emotionally supporting their colleagues, or being a calming influence during turbulent times, they serve as a role model for the kind of prosocial behavior that underpins the social mechanism of organizations. These undercover leaders help to reflect back to their colleagues their successes and bolster the team through hardships. Others lead by forging a path through ambiguity and confusion to clarity. In team meetings, they are leading the charge to flush out assumptions, nail down the outline of a problem, and drive toward translating information to informed action. Others gain a following because they embody integrity. They know what they stand for, and aren’t afraid to confront wrongs. People naturally turn to people who demonstrate character, because the know what to expect with them. They trust that they will do what they say, and that they will take everyone’s best interests to heart.
The ability to influence without authority can be applied to any relationship, be it with peers, customers, or higher-ups. But there is some risk in sticking your neck out – if you work in a culture or for a boss who is threatened by people exercising power outside of a formal leadership position, you could risk getting shut out. To have a workplace where people at all levels are encouraged to be leaders – to lead themselves and others – leaders themselves need to be open to it. If you are a leader, you should ask yourself how you respond to “managing up” and how you encourage and empower your people to lead as well. Creating an organization where everyone feels a sense of ownership promotes feelings of control and engagement, and that’s good for everyone. So if you want to work in a cohesive, vibrant work environment – make it yourself.
“Leadership is intentional influence” –Michael McKinney
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