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Leading from the Middle: Leveraging Your Influence in the Workplace

leading-from-the-middlePrestige and influence are two very different things, and for that reason, it isn’t necessary to have a title to be a company leader/influencer. John Maxwell, who’s authored numerous books on leadership, including Developing the Leader Within, notes that having a title is actually the lowest form of leadership.

This is great news for anyone who isn’t “titled,” yet desires to be influential within an organization. As you acquire the behavioral/emotional intelligence skills needed for each level of leadership, you’ll gain more influence, regardless of your title.  However, there are a few things you need to know about Maxwell’s “5 Levels of Leadership” model before you can be successful “leading from the middle”:

  • Position. The basic entry level of leadership, where the only influence you have comes with the title.
  • Permission.  Colleagues see that you’ve developed impressive interpersonal relationships, and you care about them and what matters to them.
  • Production. Colleagues begin to respect what you’ve contributed to the organization and admire you. This is imperative—along with trust and credibility—to be considered a leader.
  • People Development. You demonstrate the ability to contribute to colleagues’ career success; people grow through your mentorship and become loyal to you.
  • Personhood. Your colleagues think you’re amazing

To be a key influencer without having a title, your colleagues must respect you, see you being consistent, and know they can count on you—and you must own your own power. You need to see yourself as being in a leadership role, and understand you have a great opportunity to be impactful, even though you don’t have a seat in the boardroom, so to speak.

There are a few things you must always keep in mind as you seek to wield influence without a title:

  • Your success will always come down to whether people trust and respect you.
  • Your behavior must be aligned with organizational values.
  • You must say what you’ll do and do what you say, i.e., walk the talk.
  • You need to be good at what you do while ensuring your colleagues understand you’re a big picture person who really cares about the organization.
  • You must become an advocate of mutual respect, finding value in others as you seek to ensure they value you.
  • You must always be aware of your tone, and how others perceive you.

Many employees don’t aspire to be the president of a company or even have a defined leadership role, but most people would like to be seen as influencers. Think about your own workplace; do you have untitled colleagues whose opinions or approval are continually sought, both by those who are “under” and “above” them? Those people have figured out how to lead from the middle, serving in an influential role without the benefit of a formal title. There’s no reason why you can’t do that as well.

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