Leading without authority

Sara Knapp

Post by Sara Knapp, Executive Coach

Early in my career, my then-boss gave me one of the most invaluable pieces of advice I've ever received. He told me to act like you are in charge. For a 24 year-old, just starting to work at a big multinational bank, that required quite a shift in perspective. But looking back now, I see that my career success really began to ratchet up when I took his advice and embraced that take-charge mindset.  

Now, to be clear, I didn't start picking out the furniture for my corner office right then and there. But I did start thinking in terms of what I would do if this were my company. That allowed me to see and act on opportunities that just weren't on my radar screen when I was thinking like the junior analyst I was at the time. It prompted me to start behaving and performing like someone a rung or two ahead of me on the corporate ladder. Before long, I was that person, doing those jobs, at those levels.

Leadership is a choice. It’s always available to us. We have only to be aware of it, and always on the lookout for opportunities to exercise it.

Yes, I got my wrist slapped once or twice for stepping on toes. That’s a risk you’re going have to accept. Being a leader is, by definition, being a risk taker. But there are bigger risks than having to deal with someone’s out-of-joint nose or slightly bruised ego. 

One is apathy, because it will keep you stuck. And people who are stuck eventually sink. Another is sitting by and not filling the leadership void when you see it. Because that just creates a wider, less congested avenue for others who are willing to step up — others who may not have your talents, your skills and your abilities.

So when you see that void, step in, fill it, take action. Do the right thing. Eventually, over time, you will be seen, recognized and rewarded for what you've shown yourself to be: a leader.