How to Be a Leader Without the Title

woman in front of city

As a little kid, I used to race to the beginning of the line—any line. I wanted to be the first to speak, run through the basketball drill, or face any new task. My mom used to say, “Slow down! You can learn from those going before you.” And how right she was. Flash-forward a few decades, and my interest in being a leader has developed into a study of those who are in roles of significant responsibility, and what they have in common.

Teachers, trainers, executives—they are expected to lead based on their title alone. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t embrace our daily challenges and influence others (hopefully for the better!) as well.

Late president John Quincy Adams said it well: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” You’ll notice there wasn’t anything about stature or rank in that statement. He’s talking about human nature, and our ability to affect others. That’s a powerful thing anyone can achieve.

What’s the point? Leaders get to bring people together, build them up, and work together for the greater good. There’s no question that benefits you and your community—be it immediate family, workplace, gym group, or any other. You can achieve more together, but that’s often driven by one voice. Which could be yours!

Think about the best coaches or managers you’ve ever had (or the worst, who taught you what not to do). They have many things in common, from good habits and personality traits to great relationships. These things are attainable for all, pay and title aside.

How Anyone Can Be a Leader

Be genuine.

Essentially, be YOU! Stop worrying so much about what others think about who you are and what you believe. Speak your mind—respectfully, of course—and even if there are some naysayers, they’ll respect you more and be willing to listen, knowing it’s your truth. If they support and believe you enough, they’ll even go along with an idea they question.

Be passionate.

Energy and enthusiasm go a long way. It’s infectious, and something people want to naturally join—whatever you’re doing! (So keep it good, people.) It’s also a key ingredient for earning the respect and commitment of those around you. Think of the gym: If you’re passionate and working hard, others will be inspired and follow your lead, whether you ask them to or not!

Be an ally.

Everyone wants someone in their corner, and a true leader is willing to listen—really listen—and discover another person’s fears and aspirations. And then help them get past them and achieve what they want. Leaders are focused on others’ goals, not just their own.

Be courageous.

Confidence is essential, even for those moments you’re second-guessing. Take risks. Try new things. And think creatively. Leaders aren’t afraid to occasionally fail, or have a disagreement, because they’ll always work toward a good resolution.

Be consistent.

Leaders set high standards, and keep them, even when it’s hard. Even when you have to fake it a little, because things are confusing, or challenging, or not going your way. That’s when a leader is needed most, to rally the troops (be it kids, co-workers, or even friends), boost their spirits, and present a confident plan. Set the standard yourself and be personally responsible for being the best example you can. It’s a lot like parenting: Consistency lets everyone know what to expect, so they’re more free to achieve.

Be flexible.

Do you talk to a child the same way you talk to your boss? Of course not. But you want to be heard and effective—whatever the message—by both. That’s why customizing your approach and communication style for different people is important.

So is learning along the way, and be willing to change course. Leaders are wise enough to know they don’t know everything. And that surrounding themselves with good, talented individuals who challenge them and provide alternative perspectives will only make everyone stronger.

Be unselfish.

Share the limelight. Give credit where it’s due. And if you’re leading a group, take responsibility when things go wrong. The best leaders don’t seek all the attention and benefits; they thrive through the achievements of others, knowing they had a helping hand!

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu

Have you learned anything from leaders in your life, or your own experience? We’d love to hear below. Because there’s a leader in all of us, and we can all evolve!

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Kelly Fitzgerald has a BA in Journalism and MA in Creative Writing, and is the Managing Editor of the Anytime Fitness blog. She’s an avid reader, writer, and life-long learner who describes herself as a curious, sporty Twin Citian who is always observing, perpetually tired, and plagued by common sense.