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Leading without a Leadership Title

Your organization’s next leader could come from anywhere. In fact, regardless of their title, or position in the organizational chart, your institution has leaders throughout the company.  These colleagues are often respected by their peers and can influence the culture, expectations, and interpersonal tone of the office. They are in a unique position to understand the challenges experienced by staff that they may not be comfortable confiding in management. Newer staff will observe and emulate these staff members in a way that will shape generations of staff to come, particularly in a high-turnover environment.

Fostering leadership potential in your staff at all levels can be a benefit to your organization. There are many ways that professionals can demonstrate leadership potential, but here is a list of just a few behaviors that management can recognize and encourage in their staff.

Leadership pipeline

Be Accountable

Maybe it goes without saying, but the first key to positive informal leadership is accountability. These individuals show up and excel in the core functions of their current role. Becoming a solid, dependable performer builds trust. Managers and peers know they can count on that person to get the job done right and have the right answers. This can lead to the opportunity to become a subject matter expert or work on more significant projects which allow the employee to begin seeing the broader scope of the business beyond the rote procedures of the phone queue. Successful projects establish their credibility. Staff with this reputation can approach meetings or huddles with confidence and authority, regardless of their formal position. The opinions of a subject matter expert from the floor should be valued and sought out by management. They can ultimately influence business decisions in such a way that the organization benefits from their experience, even though their job title doesn’t technically include that decision-making authority.

Accountability (in their individual role)

       → Trust (in their work and experience)

          → Opportunity (for larger scale responsibilities)

              → Authority/Credibility (of opinion and expertise)

                  → Influence (over business decisions)

It is much easier and more effective to focus on becoming an expert or a qualified professional in one aspect of the business and leveraging that direct experience.

Manage Up

A confident employee and a confident manager should both get comfortable with managing up. Managing up requires the employee to set expectations of their direct manager for how they best work, and any support or resources they need to get the job done. This includes:

  • preferences for setting and meeting goals and deadlines
  • workload realities
  • communication styles
  • coaching/feedback preferences

The employee doing this respectfully, and the manager being receptive to it, creates a collaborative team environment in which employees take ownership of their work, rather than a superior rank telling an inferior rank what to do. The worker should then have the confidence to do their work effectively, and respectfully challenge or advise their direct supervisor or any other manager as to their working reality. When this relationship develops smoothly, the whole team is performing at their best, engaging in their work according to what they know about themselves.

Share Knowledge

Every organization has a culture, and probably subcultures and countercultures, and management only partially orchestrates it. The culture is frequently led, intentionally or not, by charismatic and visible personalities on the floor whom other staff observe and emulate. The best peer leaders somehow make it cool to be good at their job. Even in a society where effort isn’t normally cool, the effort they put in to solving problems and making the job easier for everyone becomes cool. They are sought after as formal or informal peer mentors. People respect them because they’re good, but also because they are friendly and helpful, especially in the contact center industry, where these attributes are already essential to core components of the job. In competitive environments, people are tempted to keep knowledge to themselves as an advantage in productivity. Maybe they think that will put them ahead for that raise or promotion, or give them job security if they’re the only one who knows how to do a thing.

But in our world, sharing knowledge actually makes someone better respected, an indispensable go-to person, and ultimately a stronger candidate for leadership. That’s the kind of collaborative culture that managers will want to reward and foster.

If you are not in management, and even if you have no intention or desire to move up the management ladder, seek these opportunities to lead others and influence the environment that you go to work in every day for the better. Becoming a leader and growing professionally doesn’t depend on entering a management career track.

If you are a manager, keep an eye out for valuable professionals exhibiting these behaviors. Appreciate them, and create space for them to thrive so that the entire organization can take advantage of their leadership. They might become candidates for the next management opening, or they might be stellar contributors where they are now or in other essential roles.