How Can You Be A Leader When You Don’t Have Formal Authority


Throughout my career, I have been put in several different challenging leadership positions.  In my first leadership role, I was the only female store manager out of over 90 stores.  I was one female in an environment at that time dominated by men.  I was also Director of a HBC store, leading a team of employees with 20-30 years’ experience in the company, among other directors with similar experiences.  In both cases, I was actively challenged for either being a woman, or being seen as too young to manage a team of over 100 employees (including 20 employees over 60 yrs. old).  In every scenario, I was able to overcome any preconceptions and achieve success in my role.

One can argue that because I was in a position of authority, being their boss, this facilitated my connection with the team and my results.  There are certain circumstances where you may find yourself put in a leadership position when you don’t have formal authority, meaning you are not their boss.

Currently in my district manager role, I belong to a region with a total of 6 district managers.  What I started to notice is how my influence in the team has grown enormously.  During a recent team building exercise, the facilitator asked us if we ever leverage off each other’s strengths.  Out of the 4 examples given, 3 of my colleagues gave me as an example of how I either helped make a project easier or helped change their mindset about something.  I have been asked several times if I could spend some time with them to share my best practices.  In other areas outside of work, I have been volunteered by others to take on a leadership role.

Whichever definition you may have of a leader, none should include a definition that necessitates authority or position.  True leadership is not about title, it is about so much more.  So how can you be a leader when you don’t have formal authority?


Lead Yourself First

Before you can lead others, you need to be able to lead yourself.  This means putting personal development as part of your goals, on an ongoing basis.  Read and learn from a variety of sources and on a variety of subjects.  Be sure to include subjects on leadership, emotional intelligence, IQ and social networking skills.


Adopt the Mindset of a Consultant

Establishing a mindset of a consultant means that you are the go to person when people need solutions to problems.  Your goal should not be to hand out solutions but to lead with questions and guide the person in finding their own solutions.


Be Solution Minded

During difficult or frustrating times, you want to be the person that maintains a positive attitude.  Be solution minded, no matter the situation.  When someone needs help lifting the cloud of frustration, they will find themselves coming to you more often.


Gain Buy In By Doing Your Homework

If you want to be a person of influence, make sure you understand your audience and their needs.  This will help you establish a connection and give you insight on how to inspire action by answering Why.           .



Make people want to come to you by making it easy for them.  Are you approachable?  Are you personable?   One of the comments I receive often is how approachable I am and that people feel they could tell me anything.  Approachability also means that someone can share their mistakes with you without fear of judgement.  If you can gain their trust, you will also win their respect, a huge quality in leadership.

Being humble and open to feedback is part of being approachable as well.  If they feel they can share their thoughts with you, they will be open to your insights as well.


Always be Ready

Be available to help and support people when they need you.  This will put an enormous positive deposit in your emotional bank account.


“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’” – Brian Tracy


“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” – Les Brown


What tip do you have to lead when you don’t have the title?