Leading Without Formal Authority

Industry Matters Newsletter

You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. LinkedIn Learning Instructors and Speakers Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo tell you how to demonstrate leadership and why it’s important for you as an employee in their video, “Leading without Formal Authority.”

McLeod and Lotardo start by defining key aspects of leadership behavior.  The most essential skills for a leader are not technical, but soft skills. A leader knows how to prioritize, delegate and communicate with their entire team.  Furthermore, a leader knows to listen mindfully and add value to every interaction.  They pay attention to not only a person’s words, but their tone, body language and facial expressions as well.  During difficult times, leaders are able to inspire and influence others by being empathetic and realistic.  For example, when leading through an organizational change, leaders show enthusiasm and are positive about the change while still acknowledging the challenges. 

The best leaders rely heavily on those around them and therefore handle their interactions with others tactfully.  A leader knows the importance of asking for and giving feedback and only gives feedback on things that truly matter for their organization. When they give feedback, they walk the other person through their process and rationale. Leaders build trust with their peers by keeping their word, avoiding gossip and admitting when they are wrong. 

Cultivating leadership skills outside of your organizational hierarchy will take effort and time.  Start to build credibility as a leader by talking about areas where you have information and expertise to share with people above and below you in the hierarchy. Mentorship programs are another method of establishing leadership behaviors.  Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, a mentor relationship increases your organizational influence and connects you with other people.

Without formal authority, establishing yourself as a leader could create conflict.  Therefore, set clear expectations in interactions with your team or others to help avoid challenges with authority.  Remember to connect your expectations to desired outcomes and hold yourself accountable to the same expectations.

Leading without authority is more subtle since you are not officially in charge.   However, it can be more powerful because your leadership is not dependent on your title.  True leadership is about growing relationships and is a skill that can be used outside of the workplace as well.