How to lead without using your title

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In my last article, I talked about How to lead your team from where they are at which was Lesson #2 of my experience as part of a Mountain Guiding team. Continuing the series of Leadership Lessons from the Mountains we move into the 3rd Lesson I gleaned. The idea of leading without having to use your title of “Leader”.

Some people I have worked with over the years balk at this idea. They’ve worked really hard and fought tooth and nail to get to the position they are in. They feel like they are entitled to lead with the authority of the position.

What I have discovered about leading can be broken down into one simple statement. 

Leadership is a privilege. 

If you approach leadership from any other angle than it being the privilege that it is, you will inevitably feel like you have to lead using your title.

I have seen humble leadership like this lived out in front of my own eyes, and I can tell you these leaders are the ones I want to follow. Even if I am not on their team, it makes me want to be.

Leaders that show up with this humbled kind of mindset are more likely to understand: You cannot have the authority of the title without the responsibility to lead humbly. Trying to exercise authority without making yourself accountable will only leave you going for a walk and not actually leading anyone. 

When I think back to that cold and windy, full on mountaineering experience, checking in with everyone was probably one of the most important things we did as a leadership team.

You’ve probably seen the effects of when people aren’t given the opportunity to speak. Maybe you are or have been one of these people. Often they feel like they don’t have a voice. As a result there isn’t a lot of equity & inclusion.

How can you leave your title at the door?

The leaders that I have seen lead without their titles do the following things. They might seem simple on the surface, because they are. But, in practice they are not easy.

  1. Provide transparency into their schedules so their teams understand what they are working on rather than just “being busy” all the time. I cannot tell you how many times leaders respond to my question of “How are you today?” with “I’m so busy”. As if they are trying to convince me that they are doing their jobs. If you cannot explain to your team what your schedule entails and what you are doing, they will start to question your integrity. Better to be as transparent as you can. Sure there are things you can’t share the details of, but I think there is quite a bit you can share in a more generic sense.
  2. Admit mistakes quickly to those that they have offended or wronged. Everyone makes mistakes, just own them, stay humble and move on. Any time I have seen a leader try to hide a mistake, it comes out eventually. Just own it quickly and move on, your team will respect you a lot more. If you think being a great leader is all about not making mistakes you are looking at this the wrong way. The best leaders are those that make a lot of mistakes, quickly learn from them, and not repeat those same mistakes in the future.
  3. Stay curious about what is happening with the processes you manage. Go to where the work happens regularly and check-in with the team on how things are going and how you can help them make the process easier. Notice it isn’t fixing problems for them, it is helping them solve the problems they have. Giving people an opportunity to speak is something that we need to offer to our teams. Some people aren’t comfortable if they don’t feel like they have permission to share their thoughts. Make it comfortable, easy, and non-judgmental. Empower your team to solve problems, everyone will be happier.

These are just a few practices I have seen work really well for the leaders that I’ve worked with. I am sure there are others you all can think of. The thing I have seen as a result of practicing these 3 things is that they are contagious. It makes others want to do them too. What would it be like to work in an organization where everyone practices these 3 simple things?

This also reminds me of another article that I wrote recently on the power of kaizen, you can check that article out as well if you would like to continue tumbling down the rabbit hole.

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