Many people wish they were “the boss,” but in reality, most people are not and never will be. There are only so many senior level leadership positions to go around. The far greater majority of jobs are the next tier down. But people in those supportive positions can have a serious impact by leading even when they are not in charge. If they are good at what they do, they make the noise go away for the person they serve. They lead in such a way that others don’t have to concern themselves with too many details and issues, all while using the popular phrase “I’ve got it!” (If you want to read a great book on this, consider Larry Linne’s book Make the Noise Go Away.)
One story of someone who did this well is Joseph, the guy from the Bible who had far too many older brothers who did not appreciate him and sold him! He was bounced around from buyer to buyer, each time ending up in a second in command position. While serving a high profile family in Egypt, Joseph’s boss felt that with him in charge, he did not have to worry about anything because Joseph made the noise go away! Here are five ways you too can effectively lead without being in charge.
1. Know the boss.
The more those who are not in charge know the personality, triggers, communication style, and values of the person to whom they report, the better they will be at adding value to him or her as well as to the overall organization. Every boss is unique, and the better you know him or her, the more effective you will be at helping him lead at his very best.
2. Solve problems.
Leaders love those who solve problems. Not just any problems, but those that cause a lot of static for the boss, resulting in constant stress and overload. In his book, Larry Linne refers to this as leaders becoming a crap magnet. The metaphor is self-explanatory. Those who lead when they are not in charge bring solutions to the table and know how to resolve the constant stream of distractions that inundate their leaders.
3. Think ahead.
Those who effectively lead when they are not in charge have an uncanny ability to anticipate what is coming before it arrives. Travel. Scheduling. Planning. Deadlines. Reports. These are just a few of the things that can be anticipated by someone who is not in charge. And by doing this, they reduce the static for the leaders they report to.
4. Show loyalty.
Joseph, from the story above, was completely trusted by his boss – with his house, finances and family. And Joseph never compromised his loyalty, even when his boss’s wife tried to sleep with him. Loyalty should not support a leader who is acting in abusive or unethical ways. But otherwise, loyalty is vital for leading when you are not in charge.
5. No surprises.
Surprise gifts and parties are fun. But surprises like a failing project, not meeting a deadline, or withholding information are not so good. Leaders do not like anything that is going to embarrass them. Those who lead when they are not the boss make sure this doesn’t happen by using frequent and honest communication.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center Consulting Group and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.