Alexandra Levit's Water Cooler Wisdom: Can You Lead Without Authority?

In a business world of shrinking hierarchies and individual contributors, one of the toughest challenges for the high-achiever is learning to lead without authority.  In my years in the workforce, I’ve been responsible for several large, multi-departmental initiatives with only a few direct reports to engage.  Here’s what I’ve learned through my own experiences:

Let your passion shine through

It’s hard to be critical of someone earnest, and if you infuse your communication with a genuine sense of excitement about the challenge ahead, your colleagues will naturally want to follow your lead.  Show them – through your behavior – why you got into this field in the first place, and what your experiences (good and bad) have shown you about what needs to be done next.

Appear humble

It’s bad enough when your boss has an ego that needs some serious downsizing, but it’s even less appealing when someone without power thinks too highly of himself.  The manner and content of your communication must demonstrate that you are pursuing this approach because it’s the right thing to do for the organization, not because you will receive personal credit or rewards.

Develop deep relationships

There is no shortage of psychology and business research out there showing that people like to work with individuals they like and to whom they can relate.  Before you attempt to lead your colleagues, get to them know first.  Spend time with them outside the office and show sincere interest in their personal and professional lives.

Help them help you

Your colleagues will be more likely to come on board if you make it clear to them why your idea’s success is tangibly tied to their own.  Take steps to understand the pain your colleagues are facing (an inefficient process, etc.) and create solutions that will make everyone’s lives easier.

Don’t be overcontrolling

Since you don’t have official authority, don’t get caught up in acting like you do.  Use your expertise to guide and support your colleagues, but release the need to micromanage every aspect of a project.  If you share your ideas and then allow your co-workers to take partial ownership of their implementation, they will gradually put more trust in you and the approach.

This post was originally published on Intuit's Quickbase blog.

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