Leading without a Title (Part 1)

Mastering your Soft-Skills Leadership

Career coaches often tell you to dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. The same principle applies to leadership and titles in the workplace.

You don’t need to have the title to behave like a leader. You need to demonstrate those leadership qualities before you get the title. Your goal should be to gain respect from your superiors and colleagues no matter what you’re called.

Part 1 of this two-part series of “Leading Without a Title,” discusses what I call soft-skills leadership.  

The key is the display of emotional intelligence, which we learn by watching those we wish to emulate (in my case, my boss of 8+) years. So, while I may not have the title yet, I practice these soft-leadership rules:

Rule #1: Think Like a Leader

  • Go beyond your day-to-day job

  • Be a role model

  • Inspire those around you

Rule #2: Be a Good Listener

  • Learn how to listen deliberately, with intent. (Don’t be thinking about your grocery list.)

  • Ask questions to show interest

  • Be empathetic; confirm your understanding of their situation

Rule #3: Smile

  • Smile more; not idiotically, but pleasantly

  • Be approachable; no one wants to talk to a grumpy face

Rule #4: Ask How You Can Help

  • We connect more with those who offer to help us

  • People are sometimes reluctant to ask; nudge them gently and gain their confidence

  • You will get noticed as the person to whom others seek guidance and trust: a leader

Rule #5: Say Thank-You

  • We don’t say this enough, to those above or below us

  • Remember: We don’t do any job alone; there’s always someone helping us look good and making our life easier

(See Rules 6-10 in next month’s Work Blog.)

Case Study: Rule #4

I recently applied Rule #4, “Ask How You Can Help,” with an international colleague on several projects. I noticed she was struggling to do a quality job. She always had a smile on her face, but she never met the mark.

I’m not sure what measures were taken behind the scenes, but I approached her directly, and, in my own “Z Style,” opened up a non-invasive conversation by asking how I could help. After my first few attempts (during which time she continued to flounder), she opened up and shared with me how some of her team members intimidated her.

(Lesson to self: Watch your tone when speaking to people; put yourself in their shoes.)

Here’s how I approached the problem:

I first evaluated her skills against her job responsibilities and learned quickly that she had signed up for more than she could chew. We prioritized things she needed to excel in v. those she needed to get by and I trained and up’ed her strengths in six out of ten skills on that list.

I continued as her unofficial coach, checking in on her progress; and while I took no credit, she did mention to her “real” coach that we had been working together. The end result? My own boss found out later, when she started getting kudos.

Today, I can tell you, she is a far better performer than four months ago. Her constant “thank-you’s” are more rewarding than a title at this point.

How have you mastered your soft skills as a leader?