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You Don’t Have to Be a Manager to Be a Leader

Employees do not need to be in management to be a leader. It is a common misconception that leadership is strictly affiliated with supervising other people, but it is not an essential characteristic of leadership. Leaders exist at all levels of an organization. Employees without anyone listed under them on an organizational chart are capable of exhibiting leadership skills superior to other employees who have “manager” or “director” in their title.

This blog is to encourage and empower you in your current position. Leadership is not about title; it’s about influence, and you gain influence by caring about others. As New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker says, “Leadership is not a position or a title; it is action and example.” Here are five ways to successfully lead and impact the work environment around you.

1. Leaders say thank you & encourage others

Employees thrive at work when they feel like their work has meaning. One of the simplest ways to do this is to shout out the good work of others. Thank your fellow employees and recognize them for their work privately, via email or in person, or in your next team meeting. Maybe set a monthly reminder on your calendar to thank and recognize people you have partnered with on a project.

Real leaders lift others up and share the credit. Be a champion for someone earlier in their career than you are, or without as much experience in a certain area. Maybe someone on your team is unsure if they are able to complete a task that you have experience with.

2. Leaders think ahead & manage up

To quickly be recognized for your leadership skills – whether you want to be a manager or not – is to think about how you can help your supervisor do their job. Think ahead. Think about how your boss would like to be communicated to. For example, if you are sending an email and know your boss tends to skim and miss things, use bullet points. Consider your boss’ priorities — what does he/she have to answer for and how can you make them look good? Helping your boss succeed only makes your team look better.

3. Leaders stay positive & think big picture

Positivity is contagious. Strong leaders focus on what can be done rather than what cannot. Adopt a positive outlook. You can leverage that positivity to increase your influence on fellow employees. When you hear a new idea, instead of “That won’t work,” start thinking in terms of “What would it take to make this work? How can I help?” When you don’t like something, instead of griping or venting about it, think about how you could fix it.

4. Leaders speak up & embrace feedback

Leaders are not afraid of being seen or making themselves heard. They speak up and claim their seat at the table. Share what you know with others, for example, an article, podcast or training you have taken and really benefited from. Connect with others by maintaining a professional Twitter and/or LinkedIn presence.

We can only see so much of our actions, but how do others perceive us? Do not be afraid to ask trusted mentors for feedback. If the feedback comes from someone whom you are not close with, try to see their feedback as them giving you advice. Listening to and acting on advice gives you good ideas and builds relationships.

5. Leaders share and teach others

When people come to you for help, rather than doing it for them, take the extra time to walk them through it. Take the time to train others on what you do so operations can still continue if you happen to not be in the office one day. Create a brief training document and share it with everyone else who might need it. This is a great way to show confidence in your position as well as build a reputation as a domain leader.

If you are able to attend a training or conference, think about what you’ve learned and how it applies to your organization’s goals. If appropriate, share it with your team.

Think about the kind of leader you want to be at your organization. Stay current by reading GovLoop’s leadership articles and continue to develop your leadership skills. Sign up for leadership enhancement trainings, such as the NextGen Leadership Program. Think how fast you could accelerate if you were to dedicate just 30 minutes a day to actively developing or learning new skills.

Laura-Céline Mueller is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an experienced public relations professional, specializing in content development and digital communications. As Public Affairs Specialist for the District of Columbia Government, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs she is a strategic communications adviser assisting in the management of communication, branding, events, marketing, and public relations operations of the agency. 

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Profile Photo Uyen Nguyen

This is great advice, Laura! And I completely agree, I love that doing as simple as creating a brief training document and sharing it with my coworkers is considered exhibiting leadership skills.

Profile Photo Laura-Celine Mueller

Thank you for your comment, Uyen. Absolutely, it is that simple to exhibit leadership skills. There isn’t a ‘universal guide on what is taking initiative as a leader in your workplace’ guide – but the possibilities of standing up and standing out in your organization are endless.

Profile Photo Joyce tabb

Thank you. I have always known I was a leader and don’t really need the “manager” title. I learned what makes a great leader in the Army and still attempt to apply to my current position. I am going to print out copies and handout to my co-workers who feel they can’t be a leader without the title.

Profile Photo Laura-Celine Mueller

First, thank you for your service to our country, Joyce. Second, thank you for your comment and sharing this encouraging information with others. Many of us, including myself, at some point battled with the doubting thought of speaking up in a meeting or whether we should take initiative to help others, all because we don’t have “manager” in our title. Keep up the encouragement!