How to Lead When You Don’t Have a Title

By Ron Price

How many times have you encountered someone at an event and knew by their demeanor, the way they spoke, the way they interacted with others and how others responded to them, just by their very presence that they were a leader? Their leadership wasn’t forced, they weren’t the loudest person in the room, the one with the nicest suit or biggest title, but they just exuded leadership.

There are two types of influential leadership that are not based on position or title, at least at their most fundamental level. You have a lot of say over how much influence you develop in these two kinds of leadership.

The first one is character leadership, which is about who you are, how you manage yourself and how you treat others. This type of leadership is in direct proportion to how adept you have become in these areas. 

The second is expert leadership, which is the influence you have gained because of what you know or what you are capable of doing. Think of the effective executive assistant. Your practical influence or leadership is in direct proportion to the amount of value or benefit you provide to others.

If you want more influence, start by growing your character and your expertise. Here are some ways to develop leadership influence, even when you don't have a title.

Develop an intentional definition of character that resonates with those around you (how you govern your own behaviors, habits, and how you relate to others). Pick five to seven values that reflect how you want to govern your own behavior, such as time management, honesty, humility, initiative, etc. Then, pick five to seven values that reflect how you want to treat other people, such as loyalty, helpfulness, empathy, etc. Review your top values regularly (daily or weekly) and reflect on how you can be more proactive expressing these values as habits.

Take an active and sincere interest in others, what they are trying accomplish, how you may be able to help. Ask how you can help others at work and not just your boss. Join a service club like Rotary, Kiwanis, Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc. At the heart of true leadership is what we call servant leadership.

Pick an area of expertise and learn as much as you can from the thought leaders in this area of expertise.  The internet has a treasure trove of resources—commit to reading books, blogs, articles, watching videos or listening to podcasts 15-30 minutes each day from the list of thought leaders in your area of interest.

Look for problems you may be able to solve or at least help solve. Ask people about their projects, where the obstacles or bottlenecks are. Ask if there is any way you can support them. Use these as opportunities to learn something new. Study your own organization, interview key people, explore what is working and what is not. Then, set out to develop the knowledge or capability to make a new contribution.

When given an assignment, focus on completing it immediately, thoroughly and cheerfully. This will get the attention of others. Lean into your work. Start immediately, do it with passion, aim to always finish ahead of deadlines, ask others to critique your work and provide tips for improving. You will develop a reputation for hard work, for careful attention and caring about projects, going the extra mile.

Write five cards of appreciation to others each week. Make these sincere and affirming. Make gratitude a habit, particularly with the people you work with most often. This will not only strengthen your relationships but also give you a heart of gratitude that will help you see the best in situations and improve your mood overall as well.

Hang out with leaders that you highly respect because of who they are and what they are the expert in. Ask for mentoring, feedback, tips, and any advice they will share. Identify a trait or area of expertise that represent who/what you want to become. Don’t get hung up on another leader’s shortcomings if there is something you admire. Focus on what you admire and learn as much as you can, knowing that this is like taking a class; there is a start and a finish, with objectives to be achieved in between.

If you do these things, others will notice a shift in your impact, and you’ll begin to develop your leadership influence naturally. To learn more about influence in leadership, visit