Career & Finance

Leading When You’re Not the Boss

Leading When You’re Not the Boss #theeverygirl

It’s important to keep our leadership skills sharp whether or not we’re officially the boss, because we’re likely to go back and forth between management and non-management positions throughout our careers. And the great news is that leadership is not synonymous with being in charge! In fact, when you’re not the boss, you have the freedom to practice personal leadership skills without the added pressure of being responsible for direct reports.

In a nutshell, leadership is about being of service to others, and mobilizing them toward a purpose. You don’t need to be in a position of authority to positively influence those around you, so here are a few ways to lead from right where you are!

Seek mini-mentoring opportunities. 

Mentoring gets a lot of airtime when people talk about leadership, but you don’t have to rely on formal mentoring structures to make a difference. Sometimes the best way to demonstrate leadership is by reaching out to colleagues on very specific activities where they would benefit from some guidance. Know that a new colleague is giving her first presentation? If she’s expressing some nerves over it, offer to meet her in the conference room for quick prep session where she can run it by you. Don’t wait for someone to slap a label on the ways you can serve—these types of mini-mentoring opportunities are all around you.

Sometimes the best way to demonstrate leadership is by reaching out to colleagues for specific guidance. 

Develop your informal authority.

Developing your informal authority is a way to leverage your expertise and become the go-to gal on any given topic. Can you whip up dazzling pivot tables in excel? Did you study Middle Eastern history and now your company is considering expanding in that market? Hold an informal lunchtime presentation, post a note in the employee break room, or spread the word through friends that you’re excited to help people out on these topics. You’ll quickly be seen as the expert on your issue, no title needed.

Change your water cooler chatter.

If your 3 p.m. coffee run also includes a side of gossip and ranting about the boss, challenge yourself to a week of keeping that negativity on lock down. 

It’s important to keep our leadership skills sharp because we’re likely to go back and forth between management and non-management positions throughout our careers.

Go a step further and instead of grabbing your usual office pal for break, invite someone to join you who is outside of your immediate team or bring along the newest addition to the office. Not only will you grow your network, you’ll also strengthen your ability to connect with a range of different personalities, which is a critical leadership skill.

Become the industry expert.

When you’re the boss, time spent managing personnel issues and other employee challenges can prevent you from easily staying on top of the cutting edge issues in your industry. Do management (and yourself!) a favor by being the person who is known for staying current on important trends in technology, related industries, or general business and leadership topics. Scan lists like the New York Times’ business best sellers, subscribe to industry journals, and set your email news alerts for any topics related to your job that you know will keep you well informed. 

Offer to lead a project.

You know the one! Undoubtedly your team has a goal or something on the to-do list that just keeps slipping. Whether it’s refreshing the company website or even something as small as updating an emergency call tree, raise your hand and offer to be the one who organizes the troops and makes an effort to get the project underway. You’ll refresh your project management skills and show your teammates that you’re willing to tackle any challenge. 

Leading when you’re not the boss is a simple as making a choice to practice reaching out to others and finding ways you can add value to your organization! Don’t wait for the “boss” title to make a difference to those around you. 


Elle Harikleia #theeverygirl

Elle Harikleia


Elle is a writer, economist, and neutrals-obsessed New Yorker with a passion for solving style. She is a believer in the oxford comma, white after Labor Day, and eating dessert first.