Leadership Not Ladders


You can be a leader no matter your job title. Leadership is influence. And influence has everything to do with the way you treat others.

Warmth and Authority

While knowledge is important, it takes more than a high level of competence and expertise to lead others. Kindness, deeply valuing others, shows you are a leader. We naturally work harder for those who treat us with respect and care, regardless of a formal reporting relationship. Leaders work to free up resources and remove obstacles. They are willing to give to others to benefit collaboration. In fact, research shows that people gravitate toward a combination of warmth and authority  in a leader. When people perceive us as competent and caring they’re more likely to accept us as a leader.

Management or Leadership?

Management is not the same as leadership. Managing has to do with the work itself. A manager is responsible for how work is divided, organized and tracked. Being a manager typically involves a level of formal authority, or occupying a higher rung in the career ladder. While the position may be a source of power, a manager’s authority alone does not result in influence. At best managers may get compliance from others. Issues arise when we attempt to manage others the way we manage the workflow. As the saying goes, “manage things, lead people”.

Consider the managers you’ve had experience with in your career. Have you known a manager who was not a leader? Have you known a leader who was not a manager? Most of us can answer yes to both of these questions. The good news is anyone can be a leader, no matter their position in the organization.

A New Way to Lead

Today’s workplace has seen a shift from authority based on organizational structure to a more collaborative approach. The concept of transformational leadership recognizes each employee’s value and encourages learning from past efforts to benefit themselves and the organization. By focusing on connections across working relationships and less on positional power, transformational leaders encourage innovation and growth. How would transformational leadership look in your workplace?

Something to Try: Lead Where You Are

No matter your position on the career ladder, you can lead where you are. What’s an area in your work that you feel passionate about? How can you help influence a positive change in that area? Maybe there is a process that you feel could be improved, or an idea for a project.

Identify one action step you can take this week. It may only take sharing an idea (in a caring and competent way) with someone familiar with the process or project to spark a positive difference.

Leadership is about more than climbing the ladder. How will you be a leader at work this week?

Danielle Metzinger 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.

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