How to Be a Leader When You Don’t Have the Title


Something I think is incredibly important for career development is having a mentor, or at least a resource with whom you can bounce ideas off of regarding your future career path. An effective mentor has leadership and management skills, so that as a mentor, you can truly understand some of the challenges that your mentees might be dealing with.  Furthermore, it’s extremely important to emphasize that you (either as a mentor or not) don’t need to be in a “leader” position by title (i.e. Team Lead) to provide leadership to your team.

In an effort to cultivate both my leadership, management, and mentoring skills, I took a course recently entitled “Leadership and Management for Non-Managers.”  There were set lessons in this class about self-management, teamwork, change management, and problem-solving, and some of the other lessons that I learned came from specific advice that our trainer provided.  And I think they might be helpful tips to be a good leader, manager, and mentor in any type of job, not just in government:

  • Management is a combination of problem solving and innovation.  Sometimes, a problem arises that no one has ever dealt with before, so it’s imperative that the manager be able to apply problem-solving techniques with a touch of creativity to try and find the best possible outcome for all parties.
  • Make sure to always consider the ethical aspects of the situation when making decisions.  Obviously, we all need to comply with government regulations, laws, and guidance, but an oft-forgotten element of decision making is balancing the ethics.  One of the most common self-tests about the ethical elements of your decision is using the Golden Rule Test – are you acting in a way that you would like others to treat you?  Or the Good Night’s Sleep Test – even if no one knows about my decisions, would I still be able to sleep well at night?
  • Working in teams certainly offers unique challenges, but it’s important to realize that sometimes, we are better as a team than as an individual.  To create an effective team, it’s important to consider different components, as stated in Gregory Huszczo’s book (2010) Tools for Team Excellence:
    • Clear sense of direction
    • Talented members
    • Clear and enticing responsibilities
    • Reasonable and efficient operating procedures
    • Constructive interpersonal relationships
    • Active reinforcement systems
    • Constructive external relationships
  • Identify what role you usually play in a team, both good and bad.  You may be the coordinator, listener, or troubleshooter, but you also may be the know-it-all, overanalyzer, or frequent interrupter.  Be aware of what you bring to the table, and work on actively noticing when you exhibit a behavior that does not help the team.
  • Listening is not the same as hearing.  It’s very important to be able to effectively listen to someone, and try to get rid of bad behaviors like hearing what we want rather than what is actually stated, or pretending to listen with non-descript responses (“ah-huh”) and head nods.  If you are able to summarize and reflect on what someone has said, you have been listening, and listening well.
  • Everyone has a different leadership style – some may need to approach challenges and situations in a systematic manner, and others may be more free-flowing and less structured in their approach.  Regardless, as an effective leader, you have to be aware of what your own leadership style is, what the strengths and weaknesses are, and what other’s leaderships styles may be, so that you can work with people who approach challenges in many different ways.

There is no “right” way to be a great leader or manager, but you don’t have to be in a formal supervisory role to provide leadership to your team or your organization.  You probably are viewed as a leader by some of your colleagues now, so it is important to be cognizant of your strengths, and your challenges, so that you can grow into a well-rounded leader.

The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.  USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.

Samantha L Corey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Chuck Bayne

Samantha – great post. I agree with you 100% that you don’t need a title to be a leader. More importantly just because you have a title does not make you a leader. More organizations need to seek out and encourage leadership from all levels. If people are choosing to willingly follow you – you are a leader.