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How to Lead When You’re Not in Leadership

Bonny Calfy | July 10, 2023

There’s an old saying: Leadership isn’t about being in control. It’s about creating a vision others can follow.

In other words, leadership isn’t a position or job title. It’s the ability to influence others in a productive, goal-oriented way. Because no matter your role, you — Yes, you! — are capable of demonstrating leadership qualities by having a meaningful influence on your colleagues and workplace.

Here are six ways you can effect change, be a positive influence and encourage others to follow your lead — even when you’re not in a leadership position.

1. Define what leadership means to you

Ask yourself what leadership means to you and your place of work. The critical first step toward developing your leadership skills is evaluating who you see as a leader and the values of your organization.

Think of someone you consider a strong leader. What skills or attributes do they embody? What’s their leadership style? Understanding these traits can help you learn from their approach and apply it in your own way.

So what does leadership mean to workers in general? In this Robert Half survey, 75% of respondents said integrity is the most important attribute in a corporate leader. A Gallup study, meanwhile, found that great managers motivate, assert themselves, build meaningful relationships and make decisions based on merit instead of politics.

The bottom line: These qualities aren’t unique to bosses. They’re embedded within every individual, regardless of experience.

2. Find opportunities to lead up

Is your manager slammed? Is there a task that needs to be done, but no one’s assigned to it? These are opportunities to lead up, demonstrating your willingness to go the extra mile and do more than what’s expected of you.

Let’s say you’re working on a team project, but the current approach might not lead to the desired outcome. Rather than simply going with the flow, lead up by scheduling a meeting to present your ideas, offer solutions and facilitate a conversation that could improve the project’s results.

Look for opportunities to contribute beyond your designated responsibilities by volunteering for projects, identifying areas for improvement and offering to help colleagues when they need assistance. Being proactive in finding solutions and assisting others is a great way to show initiative and help the business in a tangible, impactful way.

3. Ask for help when you need it

Hit a roadblock on a high-priority project? No need to panic; it happens to the best of us. The important thing is how we respond.

Approach the challenge with a positive mindset and a willingness to find solutions. Be adaptable in the face of change and encourage others to do the same. Your ability to handle adversity and bounce back will inspire others and earn their respect.

And of course, if you’re unsure about something — whether it’s related to process, feedback or something else altogether — there’s no shame in asking for help. (This is true in all aspects of life.) By leaning on your manager or teammates, you’ll demonstrate humility and an eagerness to grow in your role, another sign of a strong, burgeoning leader.

4. Support your co-workers

Nothing says “leadership” like supporting those in need. But supporting your co-workers is more than assisting upper management. It’s helping your teammates at every level, including those you work with directly.

Have a unique perspective on a topic? Share your knowledge and skills with others on your team. Offer to mentor or coach junior co-workers and share insights from your experiences.

By empowering others to grow, you’re not only demonstrating an essential leadership quality; you’re contributing to the development of your team as a whole.

5. Find other areas to lead

Even if you aren’t in an official leadership position, you can still be a company or community leader.

Participating in an employee resource group (ERG) — or even leading one — is a great way to show your leadership potential. Paycom’s ERGs are voluntary, worker-led groups aiming to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace that aligns with our vision, strategy and values.

Because ultimately, leadership is about developing positive relationships with your co-workers. And knowing how to lead is knowing how to show empathy, actively listening to others’ concerns and offering support when needed.

6. Utilize your company’s training resources

The best way to improve your skills, knowledge and leadership qualities? Continuously seeking out new learning opportunities.

Most businesses offer guided training for their employees. Participating in these sessions, especially if they relate to leadership, can help you stand out as a leader in your organization. Start by attending relevant workshops, conferences or seminars to enhance your expertise, then share your new knowledge with colleagues and encourage them to pursue their own development.

Paycom offers a variety of training opportunities to support the long-term growth of each employee, including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and our Better Conversations series.

We know there’s a leader inside each and every one of our employees, and we’re committed to strengthening our talent pipeline and promoting a culture of leadership — and doing it from the bottom up.

Ready to start your leadership journey? Apply to Paycom today.

About the author
Author picture, Bonny Calfy
Bonny Calfy
As Paycom’s employer brand supervisor, Bonny Calfy oversees all recruitment marketing and employer brand efforts nationwide. Her brand awareness efforts extend over 10 years and have included launching the Paycom Careers blog and social media channels and producing recruitment videos, all to help attract top talent nationwide. Outside work, Bonny enjoys reading; fishing; and spending time with her husband, children and friends.