How To Be A Leader Without Being A Boss

29/04/2015 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
The PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellows are high-potential early- and mid-career scientists working in areas of critical importance to the nation and the planet. They represent a corps of highly visible and socially engaged scientific leaders who embody science as an essential way of thinking, discovering, understanding and deciding. Photography by John Santerre

The world is changing, so is the corporate world. A hierarchical organization will soon be a concept of the era gone by; today's business organization is often flat and follows a matrix structure.

More and more companies are recognizing that leadership is not always based on a position or power. A true leader can be anyone who decides to lead irrespective of his or her position and steers a group of people to accomplish goals. Hence the set of people who one needs to influence may be his or her peers, juniors or even seniors.

Thus in simple terms, we are expected to 'be a leader without being a boss.'

In a group of many bright professionals, only a few tend to exhibit this quality. In my research, I have come across a few common traits in people who stand out and differentiate themselves from others as a leader.

1. They take decisions. A leader is someone who is not afraid to take decisions. In a situation where there is no defined leadership hierarchy, a person will be deemed and respected as a leader when he/she is willing to take decisions on the group's behalf. A decision that others have not taken before or will not even dare to take in future.

2. They establish clear goals and accountability. It is a universal truth that a team with a clear objective and goal in mind will achieve better measurable results than the one with ambiguous targets. Hence it is important for an informal leader to establish clear tasks and goals to automatically get accepted as a leader, irrespective of his/her level or nature of job. Many a times a team without a clear assigned leader can be directionless. A leader would ensure that the tasks are well defined, distributed and well accepted.

3. They facilitate an environment to participate. A culture that collaborates and co-creates is always more effective. A person who can promote this culture will be a well accepted leader. To lead by not being a leader, one need to foster the culture where everyone is heard, every opinion is counted. A mere culture of openness can transform ordinary teams to deliver extraordinary results and a person who can facilitate that culture will be accepted as a natural leader.

4. They gain commitment. It is important that an informal leader gains commitment from one and all, since he or she cannot complete a task or win against a bunch of people alone. To win unquestioned commitment, it is important that a leader converts 'one person's' idea into everybody's idea. A team which is not committed together will end up resisting many initiatives, and thus will seldom deliver great results.

5. They are well networked. Any person who wants to lead should be able to identify people who are critical to delivering the tasks. Sometimes this expertise lies beyond the group or the team; and the leader must therefore be able to rally external support of people whose knowledge or opinion matters. This quality helps to reinforce leadership in an informal forum.

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6. They demonstrate thought leadership. In an informal environment, people naturally look up to those who demonstrate thought leadership. It is therefore important for a leader to exhibit cognitive superiority over the group's collective understanding. A thought leader provides energy to the team through their innovative ideas or innovative ways to accomplish a task. People rely on them for solutions.

7. They establish a feedback mechanism. Upon establishing accountability, a leader establishes a proper review mechanism. It earns him or her the group's respect as a person who means execution. Mere discussion without an end objective and timelines will disorient any team. A predefined review mechanism will help the team to get connected on a periodic basis with an end goal in mind.

8. They resolve conflicts. Any large-sized and well-functioning team with diverse people and interests will generate conflict. A leader will be a person who can effectively convert these conflicts into positive energy. Emotions will flow, but a leader will be the one who will convert these emotions into fact-based positive actions. He or she needs to understand the root cause of the conflict and effectively guide the team towards a solution.

9. They learn every moment. In a situation where hierarchy is not well defined, an effective leader learns from the experience of others and guides the team forward. He or she never behaves like "I know it all" and allows others to share their knowledge.

10. They are humble. In a group, when a person realizes that he or she is being treated as a leader when his or her stated corporate hierarchy does not make him a leader by position, it may be a human tendency to develop arrogance. A leader demonstrates humility all the time. There is a thin line between arrogance and confidence, and a leader demonstrates confidence carefully.

Informal organizational structures ultimately provide an ideal breeding ground for group leadership to emerge spontaneously. For managers looking to grow as competent leaders, the ten attributes listed above provide powerful insights on what it takes to demonstrate true leadership.

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