Does A Leader Always Have a Fancy Title?

As part of my career journey, I have had so many people say to me…I want to be a VP or a CEO.  It’s important to remember that leaders are not just the ones with formal titles such as VP, EVP or CEO.  In fact, many leaders that have inspired me have not been formal leaders or managers.  They have been architects, senior level individual contributors, and even peers from different departments. A leader inspires and influences.  A leader is someone you want to follow.   

In today’s social world, what is a leader?  Does title matter?  The next generation of leaders does not like authority and hierarchy.  They grew up in the age of social and to them, leadership is based on followers, not on title.  The leaders of the future won’t have authority based on it being handed down from above with a title. Leadership will be a currency that is earned by peers, co-workers, and your community.  Leaders will be the ones who inspire and attract followers.  

This is not new news. If you look at the web, there is a hierarchy.  Track any discussion forum or person, and you’ll find people who have many followers, connections, and influence.  These people built their influence from the bottom up. It is a natural hierarchy built by adding value.

Who are these leaders of tomorrow?  According to Gary Hamel, they are not your conventional leaders.  They are the change agents in your organization.  They are the ones who everyone goes to in order to brainstorm new ideas. They are the ones who ask the difficult questions.  They are the ones who may not fit the standard ‘norm’ of your culture.  They may be those who management does not like since they ask tough questions.  However,  they influence and inspire everyone around them.

Hamel outlines the following attributes of leaders of tomorrow.

  • They are seers—individuals who are living in the future, who possess a compelling vision of “what could be.”  They are always thinking about the next big thing.  They may not be great at the day to day tactical work, but they are visionaries.
  • They are contrarians—they are free-spirited thinkers who push us to open our minds to new possibilities.
  • They are architects—they know that they don’t have all of the answers.  They facilitate collaboration by asking good questions, hearing everyone’s input and building a comfortable environment for an open conversation. They leverage social technology as a tool to leverage the power of community.
  • They are mentors—they lift people up and help them bring their best selves to work each day.  They coach, challenge, and encourage.
  • They are connectors—with a gift for spotting the not only ideas and great people, but the connection between the two.  They bring people together.  Whether is sponsors and mentors, ideas and sponsors, or like minded people.
  • They are passionate—their activism is based on their commitment to the organization.  

What can you do today to start to build influence and leadership?  Start with the following types of expertise you already have and start to expand it.

  • Expertise influence: The influence that comes with your background, experience, qualifications and career accomplishments.  You know what you are doing.  You are the source of knowledge when people have questions or need insight.  You share your knowledge and collaborate with others in order to influence.  You want to be the go-to person when there is expertise needed.  
    • Who knows what you know? Are your colleagues and managers aware of your expertise? Find effective ways to promote your accomplishments, to maximize your expertise influence.  Make sure to answer questions on your internal social community.  Offer to have lunch and learn’s to share your expertise.  Start to mentor other employees.
  • Informational influence: Have a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the organization and the marketplace.  Understand both your job and the environment in which your organization operates.  Understand the changes that are occurring in your organization. Not just the changes themselves, but the reason behind the changes.  
    • To gain this type of influence, seek out information about changes and the overall strategy.  This includes new projects, resource allocations, changes, and strategy.  Seek out this type of information to support your current job and how it impacts what you are currently doing.  Seek to have a strategic lens on your current job. Keeping the big picture in mind and tie how you can impact the organizational strategy.  
  • Relationship influence: The type of influence that grows as you build great working relationships with those you rely on to get your job done, and everyone else that your role touches.  You do not operate as an island. You bring people on board to your projects.  You gain consensus to new ideas.  You not only share your knowledge with others, but you build relationships throughout the organization.
    • When you take the time to build great relationships across the organization, you are less likely to need to resort to doing everything yourself or cajoling others to get things done. Instead of being the sole driver of an idea you can innovate and collaborate with people who know you and trust you.

By fully using the power of relationships and sharing your expertise and knowledge, you can gain credibility, innovate, collaborate, and make an impact on your organization.  You start to lead your organization.