How to do the tough job of leading  when you are not the leader
The writer

How to do the tough job of leading when you are not the leader

Leaders make change happen. The torchlight is often shown on leaders who occupy positions of authority and on individuals who, through what may seem as their singular sacrifice, resolved the problems of the day. 


Though the notion of a leader as a charismatic hero who swoops in to save the day is waning, some vestiges of that image persist in the minds of many. 

Unfortunately, this reinforces the view of leadership as reserved for those in special seats within the organisation.

Leadership is not a position or a title. Leadership is a set of behaviours individuals, at every level, use to influence change. 

We have read about and stand in awe of the leadership of freedom fighters such as Kwame Nkrumah, Yaa Asentewa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Nelson Mandela, but we all have opportunities to lead. Sometimes, our role is to support other leaders to make them more effective. And that’s also called leadership.

The decision to lead must not lead to loneliness:

Many leaders with titles face the daunting task of resolving the myriad of challenges they are dealing with daily. And they could do well with the support of their teams. 

However, the image of this all-knowing, all-powerful, all-conquering leader hunts them. They spend efforts and energy to protect this image they have of leadership rather than opening up to receive the support they deserve. 

Now more than ever, leaders are lonely at the top. One of the effective ways to lead is to support those in front to lead well. If we do not get in their way and help amplify their efforts, they can accomplish a lot in our teams and organisations. 

Every individual can play a leadership role of being an ardent supporter of the cause and the person who leads the mission of your organisation. 

Your actions and examples matter even though you do not have a title. 

I have encountered many leaders who attribute their effective leadership to the inspiration of others in their organisation. Every leader will appreciate the extra support that you can offer. Here are a couple of ideas to start with.

Speak truth to power, they need you to:

Leaders are desperate for the truth about the situation on the ground. Most leaders have lost the war because they did not get accurate information about the situation at the front lines. 

Leaders at the frontlines are the first to notice changes in customer attitudes. 

Team members who make every effort to bring the reality of the situation to leadership are a real treasure. Some leaders are obstinate and impervious to advice. 

Others are generally very good at listening to the challenges at the front. Hence, you also have a leadership responsibility to play, which is to carry the message from the frontline to the leadership in a manner that can used for decision-making. 

Observe and share insights with your leaders honestly.

Solve problems at your level rather than move them up:

There is nothing more admirable than taking action to solve a problem within your control. Leaders at the top expect that leaders are the frontline to solve problems they come across rather than escalating every issue. You must discern which issues to escalate and which problems to solve, even if such problems require effort. 

Those at the top are dealing with a lot already. 

"All problems become smaller if you don't dodge them but confront them." -William F. Halsey.

Embrace the additional workload, they are also overwhelmed:

When leaders need to get stuff done, they reach out to individuals willing to embrace change in their schedule and scope of work. Sometimes, your leader may call on you to carry an extra load. 


Herein lies your opportunity to contribute to their leadership, build your capacity to handle more and move to the next level on your leadership journey. 

I know that sometimes what was supposed to be additional work for a week turns to months and sometimes without the necessary compensation. 

Being open to taking up extra responsibilities, even if they alter your original work schedule or create some personal discomfort, is a clear sign of embracing leadership. Every leader, once in a while, takes on more than is necessary to create the change they desire to make.  

"It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform."- Roy T. Bennett.


Cheer them on because they are not perfect:

Every leadership situation is complex, and we expect our leaders to be all perfect, infallible, loving us, giving us great feedback, inspiring us and doing no wrong. Fortunately, we have read all the great biographies and heroic acts of great leaders. 

Hence, we see effective leadership when we encounter one. Unfortunately, we have rolled all the great qualities into our one idea of what a perfect leader must be. As you may have realised by now, no leader is perfect. 

However, have you seen your leader attempting to be the best she could be? Then you can cheer her up. Have you witnessed her demonstrate some leadership skills? Then cheer her up. 

Many leaders are working at doing their best and will win with your support.


Be future-minded and accept tough decisions they make:

One way to demonstrate your leadership orientation is to be future-minded. Great leaders balance leading in the present context while preparing and maintaining readiness for the future. 

It is not helpful to think of your organisation only in terms of what it does today. 

Having the future in view helps you accept the long-term decisions leaders make. 

Leading with a future orientation makes it possible to align with your leader and go on the journey, even though you may not see the immediate results you would like to see in your area of operation. 

Keep on leading even if you do not have a title. That is leadership. Be of good cheer.
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program, ( and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory ( 

The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice.

If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to [email protected]. Until you read from us again, keep leading…..from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

Connect With Us : 0242202447 | 0551484843 | 0266361755 | 059 199 7513 |

Like what you see?

Hit the buttons below to follow us, you won't regret it...