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Some Workplace Leaders May Not Be the Boss

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By Diane Stafford

RISMedia, June 14, 2011—To prosper in many workplaces—indeed, to get ahead in the service economy generally—you need to influence people over whom you have no authority.

Today’s workplace is full of joint ventures, strategic alliances, contract employment and work teams that cut across divisional lines. Sure, organizational ladders still exist. Bosses still boss.

But command-and-control hierarchies aren’t the only way business gets done. The time-worn management pyramid has been squashed flatter. Non-core operations have been spun off.

Getting things done in the leaner, flatter, narrower organization depends on your ability to “manage” others over whom you have no direct authority.

That means interpersonal skills are as important as technical or industry-specific ones.

Remember: You can’t be a leader if no one will follow.

Many jobs require you to lead your peers as well as your customers. And the power to get others to do what you want — or what they’re supposed to do — doesn’t come “because the boss said so.”

It comes because you can command attention and respect, because you can communicate effectively, and because you’re good at building and sustaining relationships.

You can think of the workplace as a grown-up playground. Natural leaders bubble to the top. Non-leaders are left digging alone in the sandbox.

Such leadership comes naturally to some. Others have to learn it by observation or by getting dinged for practicing the way not to do it.

Take careful note of who the thought and action leaders are in your workplace. What do they do that makes others treat them as leaders, even if they don’t have the titles that bestow authority?

Hints: They won’t be the gossipers or malcontents. They’ll be the positive, can-do people who go the extra mile in their own jobs and share credit with others.

If you use those grassroots leaders as your workplace role models, you’re likely to have more long-run career success than attaching yourself to the coattails of your current boss.

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