How to Be a Leader Regardless of Your Job Position

Nov 20, 2013
10 Min Read

Most people assume that you need to be a manager to be a leader but that's simply not true, says Vinay Nadig. Nadig is the author of Leadership IS for Everyone: 20 Leadership Secrets for Exceptional Outcomes and Fulfillment at Work. He developed the principles and systems around Leadership IS for Everyone - a set of daily leadership behaviors during his 20+ years as a consultant, entrepreneur and a business unit head. In this brief interview, he talks about the traits of the best leaders, the exceptional leader's continuum, how to make leadership part of your daily routine and advice on being a leader.

Dan Schawbel: Why do you believe that leadership is for everyone, not the select few?

Vinay Nadig: Leadership, we are repeatedly told in books, on TV and in movies, - is the exclusive territory of those with title, hierarchy and privilege.  It never really seems to leave its lofty perch. In the workplace there is a general sense that leadership is reserved for the so called "C-Suite", i.e. people with lofty titles.

Peter Drucker’s famous saying, “Work is an extension of personality.  It is achievement. It is one of the ways in which a person defines himself, measures his worth, and his humanity,” sums up the significance of work, and applies to most people.  It is hard to argue with Mr. Drucker, and if we accept work as being such a significant part of our lives, how do we thrive in the workplace?

I believe that we are all leaders at heart, and practicing the behavior of leadership daily – is the only way to thrive in today’s workplace, regardless of status and hierarchy.  Most of us are always waiting for "something to happen" before we step up.  It could be "oh this is not the right time", "I don't have the money", "well, that's not really my place" and so on.  And while we wait, there is a tremendous universe of opportunity that passes us by!  By rejecting the idea that leadership is reserved for a select few and pursuing a path of daily sustainable behaviors, I have seen countless everyday leaders succeed in the workplace.

Everyday at work, countless people struggle with what seems like an insurmountable obstacle – a feeling of being handcuffed, a feeling of being victimized.  I believe that there is a tremendous leadership vacuum today in business; I also believe that true leaders are everywhere in an organization – and if they accept the behavior of leadership – i.e. – a framework I present in my book "Leadership IS for Everyone", they can break the shackles of this crisis.

Dan: What are some of the top traits of the best leaders and can you give example of some leaders you cite in the book?

Vinay: The most effective leaders operate with what I call "leadership H.E.A.T."  H.E.A.T stands for leading by being humble, exceptional, authentic and transparent. In my book I write about truly magnificent leaders who exhibit these traits.  Some of them have the titles we have come to recognize as the badge of leaders, and some of them don't!  An example that is close to my heart that I give is about the workshop fitter who taught me the value of being exceptional in my work.

To relentlessly focus on world class in every minor detail of my work. Look, there are a lot of people at work who believe that perception is everything; that climbing on the latest management fad will take them to their goals.  I have experienced this first hand!  A client who was a senior leader at a large organization believed that story telling was a great way to communicate to his teams and that would really get them focused and on task.  Can't argue with the storytelling strategy - except he made himself the hero of these stories with themes that were entirely false.  His teams knew they were false, and predictably his message fell on deaf ears.

Dan: How do you identify where you fall in the exceptional leader's continuum?

Vinay: There are 4 types of leaders that I define in the exceptional leader's continuum that I call the leadership ascent curve. 

The "Seeker" who is beginning the leadership journey is at Level 1 and is focused on acquiring core competencies. This leader knows what her personal mission is and focuses relentlessly on designing and building a set of skills to support that. 

The 'Expert" is a Level 2 leader and is acknowledged for his mastery of his core.  A defining attribute of this type of leader is that he finishes initiatives and is known as the "go to" guy in his team/unit/organization. 

The "Enabler" is a Level 3 leader focused on providing a platform to make others succeed.  He frequently lets his team members and peers take the credit and provides generous support to make them ever more visible. At this level, leaders are no longer looking to solve problems based solely on their functional expertise.  They are now leveraging the strengths of others to solve organizational issues. 

The "Transformer" is a Level 4 leader completely focused on getting their people to their highest possible level of performance. Level 4 leaders do not shirk the attributes of the Seeker, the Expert or the Enabler – in fact, they will use those attributes within themselves whenever necessary, but always in the service of transforming someone else to a peak performance state, so that ultimately the entire whole achieves fulfillment.

Dan: How can you make leadership part of your daily routine at work?

Vinay: Listen, I know it is hard to focus on all the "shoulds" that Gurus are always telling us about!  My prescription for leadership is simple.  Make it a ritual!  Practice this weekly leadership ritual and you will have made leadership part of your daily routine!

Design Your Core: Are you performing activities that will take you further in accomplishing your personal mission? 

Fire it Up: Which one skill/technique will you add to your repertoire this week?

Achieve Credibility: What will you accomplish (finish) this week that will utilize your unique competencies?

Nurture & Transform: Have you decided how you will help one other person in your sphere of influence to achieve their goals this week?

Dan: What are your top three tips for anyone who is looking to be a leader but doesn't have the confidence to step into that role?

Vinay: First and foremost, leaders are highly competent.  Incompetent leaders are pretenders at best.  So, let your confidence stem from your core set of strengths, your unique selling proposition, if you will!  This is an essential and important first step on your leadership journey. Second, focus on doing something rather than on being someone.

This is such a key factor!  The most effective leaders know that most people forget that leadership has to start from inside - that is, from within ourselves.  And the way we show it, use it, achieve benefits out of it - is through others.  They understand that we can't serve others if we don't lead from within.

Third, practice your core competence relentlessly. Your mastery of your craft, the achievements stemming out that mastery and the credibility that follows will all make you wear the mantle of leadership easily.

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