How to Be Recognized as a Leader When You’re Not the Boss!

men and women sitting around table

Just because you don’t have the title or the official authority of a leader, it doesn’t mean you can’t assume the role.




Episode 23 - How to Be Recognized as a Leader When You’re Not the Boss

by Roger Reid


There are plenty of employees with several years of experience who are ready to move up, to assume the responsibility of a mid-level manager. But logistics, budgets, and re-organizations can often hamper a career path. A successful rise to a position of authority and responsibility can be anything but a straight line, and there are often times, when an extended stay in an inferior position is necessary while waiting for internal circumstances, the economy, or expansion plans to present an opportunity to move up.

But just because you don’t have the title or the official authority of a leader, it doesn’t mean you can’t assume the role.

Hey, this is Roger Reid with another episode of success point 360.

 First, let’s make sure you understand the concept of leadership.

To acquire the reputation of a leader, you must be recognized as a leader. Leadership status is acquired when others recognize you demonstrating the character, actions, and thinking of someone who is a step ahead, someone who is focused on the bigger picture and is concerned about the performance and success of others.

In short, you “become” a leader because of your influence, not from the result of a title or promotion. Yes, those with superior level authority will expect others to acknowledge the privilege and entitlement associated with their senior position, but unless they exhibit the qualities of a leader, they will never experience the level of admiration, loyalty, and appreciation reserved for those who manage their subordinates with respect and consideration.

So how can you demonstrate your leadership potential? How do you build a reputation as the go-to guy or gal when someone needs objective and intelligent advice?

Some of the following suggestions are about attitude and emotional maturity. Others are specific actions you can take to establish yourself as someone who is at the top of their game, a professional who sets the standard within your company and your industry.

Make it clear to co-workers and supervisors that you support the company’s programs, policies, and people . . . even when you don’t personally agree with the company’s current direction. Never give the impression that you intend to subvert, undermine, or work around the boss. The company pays the bills, and they are at the helm. Management’s decisions are often made with the benefit of information that their subordinates don’t have. So regardless of the topic or subject under discussion, always stay in emotional control, which is especially important when the news is negative. Keeping a steady hand on the wheel is the mark of a leader, and as I’ve said before, someone is always watching.

Along the same lines, do your best to present a positive image. You want to be seen as the guy or gal who’s great to be around. You may establish the habit of providing an uplifting word or a positive message, especially when times are challenging. During my stint as co-owner of a large photography company, I often accompanied the salesperson when she called on school administration officials to present our products and services. Time and time again, I’d see a sign placed over the doorway of many of the offices. The message was always the same: “Attitude is Everything.” It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to overestimate its power.

Conversely, do you best to avoid gossip and the conversations that typically take place around the water cooler. Make it a point to stay out of discussions involving rumor and conjecture. A leader doesn’t stir up discontent or say anything to intentionally raise the anxiety level of other employees. If you’re asked to comment on the latest rumor, simply say you don’t know anything about it.

Make it a point to compliment others. Offer praise and feedback to co-workers and subordinates, both privately and in front of supervision and management. If you see someone’s work improve, they deserve recognition. And always keep your compliments on a professional level: You noticed their reports are more accurate, their data is easier to interpret, or their level of productivity has improved.

And NEVER criticize another co-worker in front of others. And if the boss privately asks you what you think of another employee, use tact and diplomacy, indicating the future can always hold room for improvement.

Promote a team concept. Never miss an opportunity to share credit for your success. Even if it’s nothing more than acknowledging the administrative staff for their help in putting together your presentation, always include everyone that was involved in the process. Yes, we all have the desire to be individually recognized for our accomplishments and to receive the accolades that go along with it, but corporate super-stars are quick to burn out, while team players tend to stay in the game much longer.

Leaders understand the advantages of team building and the process of directing and utilizing the talents and abilities of multiple individuals rather than focusing on one superstar.

Volunteer to help others. If you see a co-worker struggling with an assignment, suggest references, sources of expertise, or ask if breaking the problem into smaller parts might help. Avoid doing the work for them, but if you see obvious mistakes or their approach is off-target, point out the problem or conflict, then offer to review their work before they continue.

Why go to all the extra effort? If a co-worker or subordinate’s performance is sub-standard, your manager probably knows it, and your efforts to help them will not go unnoticed.

If you’re ready to step up and take more responsibility, ask your supervisor if she would like you to help with new hire orientation. When explaining the specific ways in which you can contribute, offer to be the first point of contact to answer questions, resolve a problem, or obtain advice. Your intention is to take some of the load off the supervisor. And because you don’t want to suggest that volunteering to help others could result in you falling behind in your own work, confirm that your regular responsibilities may limit your availability, but you also understand the need to bring new hires up to speed as quickly as possible, and you’ll make the time when it’s needed.

Now let’s talk about specific activities that will require you to invest a bit more time and effort, but can have a huge payoff at promotion time.

Attend all company events and functions, whether business-related or social. Your absence from a company event will be conspicuous—not something you want others to notice. Corporate social functions are often used as a testing ground, to see who rises to the top, handles themselves well, and demonstrates leadership ability.

Next, present an in-house seminar or training class for customers or staff. This is one of the most powerful actions you can take to bring attention to yourself as a leader. Don’t expect any additional compensation, but most supervisors will allow you to use company time for preparation and delivery if you can show how the content of the program will translate into increased sales, greater productivity, a more positive work environment, or a reduction of company liability.

Another variation of this is to attend seminars and participate in online education programs. These can be company-sponsored or independently produced. Then volunteer to teach a similar class to other employees. If appropriate, you can offer to present the material to customers, modifying the content or curriculum to make it more suitable or applicable for the specific audience.

And remember to respect the originality of the work by siting the author or source. You should avoid copying or duplicating original training materials without permission. Concepts and ideas are seldom afforded copyright protection, but the actual material used to convey those ideas and concepts usually are protected.

When you’re ready to scale your influence, you can create an industry blog that features your company’s products, services, and applications. Invite customers, employees, your supervisor, and industry influencers to write guest posts. To be effective, you’ll need to post something new at least once a week. Make sure your boss understands that you do this during your off-hours to alleviate any concerns over subordinating your core job responsibilities to writing the blog. If you want even more personal visibility, try sending out a short, daily email with tips and ideas for increasing productivity, while reducing wasteful, or time-consuming activities. 

My final suggestion has to do with making sure your efforts don’t go unnoticed. That means making sure your boss is aware of your on-going contribution. One of the best ways is to include your supervisor in correspondence –both internal and external to the company. For example, if you write a short note to another employee, thanking them for their help, copy the boss. Make sure the content is positive and offers praise for those who made a contribution. Use the same process to acknowledge the efforts of a team leader, division supervisor, or other managers to acknowledge a contribution that directly affected your team, division, or customers. And of course, you always copy your boss when sending positive comments to a customer. (And a quick side note: Never put anything negative about a customer in writing, that includes email and texting, even if your comments are supposedly for internal use only.  Yes, you may need to define or explain a problem or challenge you’re experiencing, but always frame the message in a positive light, siting the benefits and advantages of working through the difficulties and how you’re already making progress with a transition to a stronger, more productive business relationship.

These suggestions will mean devoting more time and energy to your work-day. But it’s an investment in your career. And it often pays off in promotions, raises, and even new job offers from other companies within your industry. Above all, don’t overlook the influence your co-workers can have on your future success. Always be patient, courteous, and friendly. Talking down to a co-worker or being belligerent can earn you the reputation of a jerk—or worse, an arrogant jerk. Instead, learn the birthdays of your fellow employees and send them a card. Congratulate them on promotions and advancements. Your co-workers know and will typically influence many people in and outside the company, and one of those people could be a vital link to a better position if and when you decide to look for a better job.

 Adopting a professional attitude and mindset is part of being successful as an employee. And in the eyes of management, demonstrating those qualities consistently is the hallmark of a leader—someone who is responsible, dedicated, and promotable—the very attributes you want to convey to those who can do the most for your career.

MUSIC BREAK (end of main topic)

I received an interesting question from a listener, and I’ve prepared a rather lengthy answer because I think it’s a common experience for many people, and they’re often left wondering how to handle it.

Here’s the question, and it comes in the form of an email from Matt in Orange County, California. He writes: I work at a Fortune 500 company as an outside sales rep. The company frowns on forming personal relationships with other employees, but there is a woman who works in the same office that I would really like to ask out, but I’m concerned about the negative repercussions to my career if the HR department were to ever found out about it. Do you have any suggestions on how I can approach her without setting off alarm bells or being accused of harassment?

First of all, I want to disclose right up front that I’m not a psychologist or a social worker. But I’ve had some personal experience concerning romantic relationships between employees, and I’ll give you the best advice I can.

For decades, companies have used behavioral guidelines, environmental influences, and formal policies to keep their employees from engaging in flirtation, romance, and sex. Human resource departments continue to hire independent consultants to present workshops on curtailing sexual overtures and innuendo. Periodic memos are constantly circulated to remind employees to keep explicit conversations and public displays of affection outside the office.

Has it worked? It depends on how you measure it. I think the level of casual flirtation is probably about the same. Even when companies institute new policies to control or eliminate it, the resulting atmosphere only appears less affected. As most will tell you, it’s still there, bubbling just under the surface.

That being said, people working for the same company still meet, become attracted to each other, and end up having consensual sex. Some fall in love and get married. Others fall in love, get divorced, and then get married.

Here’s the big question: If tempted, what do you do?

First, consider your company’s rules and policies concerning an inter-office romance. Assuming there are strict directives for acceptable employee behavior while on company time and property, it’s also a good bet that repeated infractions can result in automatic termination—for at least one of you. However, if you’re determined to ask out that cute brunette in accounting—despite the risk to your career—here are a few guidelines:

Be discrete. Don’t ask a co-worker out if someone else can hear you. It can be embarrassing for both of you. When asking, don’t gush about your pent-up feelings or use language that should be reserved for the bedroom. Simply ask the question: “Would you like to go to . . . ?”

If you’re turned down, don’t ask twice. It’s not only rude; it could also be considered harassment. Even though you deliver your second invitation with courtesy and respect, if the recipient of your interest becomes uncomfortable, you’ve crossed the line, and you can be held accountable for it.

Keep sex off the table during the first date. Make your first date a casual lunch or a cup of coffee after work. If all goes well and you both decide to indulge, explore the possibilities OUTSIDE of company time and property. Taking the secretary out to the parking lot for a “noon-er” in the backseat of your Chevy will not be appreciated by management, and if your sex partner regrets the activity later, your lack of judgment WILL come back to haunt you.

This next suggestion is very important:

Keep the relationship to yourself. Don’t share the fact that you’re dating a company employee. Make sure your partner understands the need for secrecy as well. Most companies consider romantic activity between employees an unwanted distraction within the workplace, affecting not only the two people involved but others who know about it. If it negatively influences office productivity, one or both of you may find yourself being transferred or terminated.

To keep things as comfortable as possible during and after an office relationship, Agree on rules of disengagement before things get serious. If it doesn’t work out—and most of the time, it won’t—have a mutually acceptable understanding of how to break up or at least wind things down. Think of it as a dating prenuptial. If your relationship grows and you end up together in the long term, great. If not, you’ll have some rules to help normalize your post-breakup behavior at work. Remember, if one of you loses interest and calls it off, you’ll still have to work together. And that can be a big order. Here are two suggestions that you may want to include in your pre-relationship discussion:

  1. Agree that if either party decides to call it quits, they must be honest and disclose their feelings as soon as possible.
  2. Neither of you is allowed to suddenly stop calling or radically change your behavior toward the other without a full explanation of what’s going on. Not knowing why a relationship ends only adds to the hurt and disorientation caused by rejection. Being honest can also help reduce the animosity and outright hostility the injured party can feel toward the other.

I’ll sum it up with this:

The mid-twentieth century adage of “Don’t stick your pen into the company inkwell,” was an early attempt to warn employees (primarily men) to consider their co-workers in the same way as they would any company asset—don’t abuse it, never exploit it, and don’t even think about taking it home. And yet, many people can still remember the first time they laid eyes on their spouse—riding together in the same elevator, chatting in the company lunchroom, or sitting next to each other at a business conference—brought together because they were employees of the same company.

I must admit to having a special affinity for this group of love-struck co-workers since I, too, married a co-worker. And after 27 years of marriage, I consider our meeting, relationship, and resulting marriage to be the most positive and influential event in my life. Just because you both happen to work under the same roof should not be a reason to eliminate each other as a possible life partner. Just remember, an office romance has a much greater—and safer—chance of longevity when passion is moderated with equal does of caution, discretion, and responsible judgment.

Hey, that’s it for this episode. If you’d like a transcript, it’s available on the Success point 360 website. Just click on the appropriate episode. And, if you have a question or comment, I want to hear from you. You can leave me a voicemail by selecting the proper tab on the main header of the success point 360 website, or shoot me an email at

Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

© 2020, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved

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