“A leader without followers is just someone out for a walk” – How to be a successful leader without a title or people to manage
By definition, a leader needs followers but there is nothing to say that these followers need to be people that are directly managed by you. Being a leader is not about having authority over others, it is about inspiring others through your actions, beliefs and values to deliver results, to achieve personal development goals, to continually improve how they work, to build better relationships with colleagues and customers, to want to give something of themselves to help others.
Leadership is a behaviour and behaviours can be demonstrated by anyone – no matter what role you do, no matter how many people report in to you, even if no-one reports to you at all.
It just takes practise and awareness.
Has anyone asked for your opinion or advice lately and then acted upon it?
Are you the person in the office that people come to when they are trying to solve a difficult problem?
If the answer is yes, then you may already have a following of people whom you inspire and influence – you are a leader.
The responsibility you have as a leader without having formal direct reports is perhaps greater than that of a leader with them. There is a sense of obligation from a team or direct reports to their leader, finding themselves having to do things they may not agree with but just have to do as a fact of life in business. But when your followers chose to follow you, when you are a leader because your actions inspire action in others, then your power is much greater. If you can develop leadership skills that influence wider than your team alone, you can achieve much greater things. People will want to follow you, they will choose to do things rather than do them because they have to.
Becoming a leader when you have no team or individuals to manage is possible and if a formal leadership position is something you aspire to, then it’s a necessity to develop leadership skills and inspire a following.
What are the leadership skills you should focus on developing?
Building relationships – Take the time to listen and understand – what motivates people, what are their challenges, why do they do the job they do, what would make their role more enjoyable or easier? By understanding people’s motivations and goals, you will be better able to influence them.
Seeking to understand not solve – Great leaders rarely provide the answers, instead they ask the questions that enable the person seeking support to find the answers themselves.
Demonstrating emotional intelligence – We’ve all been there; something has happened, we have seen red and before we know it our overreaction to the event leaves others wondering what they have missed. Controlling emotions and choosing how to react to events is crucial to leading others – the people who follow us, follow us because they value our opinions and our way of doing things – more often than not this is because it matches with their own opinions, values and ways of doing things.
Losing your cool could do long term damage to how others see you as they are expecting consistency from you. That is not to say you should be happy and positive all the time, that’s simply not possible. What you can do is learn how to control your reactions to any difficult situation in a way that delivers a positive outcome and does not damage your leadership brand.
Living your leadership brand – to the point above, you may not think you have a leadership brand but if you have followers, I can assure you that if asked, they would have something to say about you. What they have to say about you is your ‘given’ Leadership Brand. Understanding your “given” leadership brand and how aligned it is to what you want your ‘owned’ leadership brand to be can give you valuable insight into what you’re doing right and what you need to do differently.
Your ‘owned’ leadership brand is who you want to be, it is what you want to be known for – it is about you taking control of what people say about you when you are not in the room. If you don’t have an ‘owned’ personal leadership brand, it is worth dedicating some time to developing who you want to be as a leader and then act in accordance with it – to both further develop your following and to protect your brand.
If the idea of an ‘owned’ leadership brand is new to you, here are some things you might want to consider doing to build one:
Define your ‘owned’ leadership brand – Write down words you would want people to say about you and your brand. Consider what it is you want to be known for. Combine the two into a short paragraph that defines who you are as a leader
Seek feedback – Ask your followers what words they would use to describe you and then consider how close those words are to the ones you would want people to use about you.
Adapt behaviour – If your feedback closely matches your ‘owned’ brand, think about the behaviours you demonstrate to achieve that and how you can continue to demonstrate them or even improve on them. If there is a wide gap between the feedback and your ‘owned’ brand, think carefully about what you are doing that is resulting in your ‘given’ brand and take action to change in accordance with your ‘owned’ brand.
Taking the time to understand who you are as a leader and who you want to be is critical for any leader, but if you are looking to lead without the title or position, then it becomes a necessity because if you can’t answer the question “Why should I follow you?” then how can you expect anyone else to?
So you can be a leader and have followers without having a formal title or team; by developing leadership skills and a leadership brand.