How To Lead Without A Title, Position Or Rank

Today I had the privilege to share with the Christian Legal Society on the topic of leading without authority, which in essence means to lead before you have the title, position or rank to which (perceived) leadership is bestowed. The group was gracious to also let me record the talk for my leadership podcast that comes out each Thursday. I thought I would share some of that talk with you in today’s blog.

People confuse leadership and management. They are not the same thing. We often think we can’t lead until we are managers, and that once we’re managers we’ll begin to lead. However, the two are unique and complimentary. If you are a law firm, company or non-profit organization, you need both leadership AND management. Sometimes those come from the same people, and just as often they do not.

The key for today’s discussion is that leadership is something you can do right now, because at the end of the day leadership is simply influencing other people. Think back to a group of friends you hung around in high school or college. Who was the leader? Perhaps it was you; perhaps not. But I’m sure someone popped into your head when I asked the question. Now consider: did that person have an official role of supervision over you? No! But of the group, they simply wielded the most influence.

There are several ways you can increase your influence within an organization regardless of rank, title or position. We’ll cover the first today, and address the rest next week (several of these come from one of my podcast guests and a leadership expert, Dave Stachowiak, though I tweaked/added/modified for our purposes!):

  1. Stop wishing for control, and move beyond compliance – the idea that you have to be “in control” in order to lead is a false one, and in some ways can be counterproductive. Oh in the short run you might be able to get a subordinate to go a bit faster when screaming at him, but in the long run the subordinate will only put up with that for so long. Great leaders don’t force action; they inspire it. They don’t require compliance, but rather encourage people to follow them. Leadership expert and author John Maxwell wrote, “Instead of pretending to be in control, leaders must model being under control.”

The story of Joshua provides a great example of these ideas and leadership qualities. Beginning in chapter 24, verse 24, Joshua leads his people back to God not through fiat, commands or dictatorial persuasion. Rather he takes them through a step-by-step process of self-discovery and commitment to God, rather than obedience to Joshua the leader.

Step one, verses 14 and 15: Joshua lays out the facts and the options to the Israelites, and leaves them with the famous quote which hangs in many a home, “…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” They respond positively and agree with Joshua that they should worship only God.

Step two, verses 19 and 20: Joshua gives them an out and basically asks, “are you sure?” A leader relying on status, rank or position would not have any use for such questions. He would tell them what to do, and be satisfied when they, as he expected them to, obeyed. But Joshua wanted to make sure they understood what they were agreeing to before moving on. The people again responded positively.

Step three, verse 22: Joshua raises the stakes of their commitment, to which they continue to affirm their decision.

Step four, verse 23: Joshua now provides instruction to the people who have agreed to follow God. This is key. Some leaders would begin and end this process with instructions such as these. But Joshua waited until the people had taken three other steps in his direction before sharing them.

Step five, verse 25-27: Joshua makes a covenant for the people, which is notable both because it again raises the stakes of their commitment, and also because it’s a step done at the conclusion of a process rather than at the beginning.

Like Joshua, you too can lead by not concerning yourself with control, influencing people rather than commanding them, and only communicating instructions or direction after establishing trust with people and knowing they are ready to follow you.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Nehemiah, and how caring for others, offering to help and giving credit to others can increase your influence and help you grow in your leadership abilities.

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