How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

How many times have you said, “If I were in charge…” followed by some grand thought of exceptional practices and operations? How many times have you considered that you could create that change right where you are? The Harvard Business Review has a great discussion on how to lead when you’re not in charge. They identify some of the characteristics of individuals who “believe it’s possible to do something big with a little dab of power.”

What, then, are the attributes of individuals who can inspire others and multiply their impact?

They are seers — individuals who are living in the future, who possess a compelling vision of “what could be.” As human beings, we’re constantly looking forward, and we love to sign on with individuals who are already working on “the next big thing.”

They are contrarians — free of the shackles of conventional wisdom and eager to help others stage a jailbreak. It’s exciting to be around these free-spirited thinkers who liberate us from the status quo and open our minds to new possibilities.

They are architects — adept at building systems that elicit contribution and facilitate collaboration. They leverage social technologies in ways that amplify dissident voices, coalesce communities of passion and unleash the forces of change.

They are mentors — rather than hoarding power, they give it away. Like Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century management pioneer, they believe the primary job of a leader is to create more leaders. To this end, they coach, tutor, challenge and encourage.

They are connectors — with a gift for spotting the “combinational chemistry” between ideas and individuals. They help others achieve their dreams by connecting them with sponsors, like-minded peers, and complementary resources.

They are bushwhackers — they clear the trail for new ideas and initiatives by chopping away at the undergrowth of bureaucracy. They’re more committed to doing the right thing than to doing things right.

They are guardians — vigilant defenders of core values and enemies of expediency. Their unflinching commitment to a higher purpose inspires others and encourages them to stand tall for their beliefs.

They are citizens — true activists, their courage to challenge the status quo comes from their abiding commitment to doing as much good as possible for as many as possible. They are other-centered, not self-centered.

Do you see these traits in yourself?

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Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is PEAK Grantmaking's communications and practices director. You can find her on Twitter @nikkiwpowell.