You Can Do Amazing Things Without Having a Team to Lead. Here’s How.

You can make a big difference at work without being in a leadership role. It’s possible to make great things happen, even when you lack the leverage of a large team.

“You don’t have to ‘own’ a team to participate in highly influential activities that make a difference for your company, its customers, and employees,” explains Dona Munsch, Vice President of NetApp’s cloud operations. “You don’t have to lead a team to do amazing things.”

I recently interviewed Munsch for a women’s leadership webinar. What it takes, according to Munsch, is understanding how to lead from where you are.

Munsch spoke of a key inflection point in her career, made possible by a shift in mind-set. “My father was an incredibly hard worker,” says Munsch. Inspired by his example, she embraced a ‘just do what needs to be done’ work ethic, and that served her well at the beginning of her career. As a project coordinator at HP, working her way up in the organization, Munsch gained a great deal of satisfaction working as a subject-matter expert. “As my knowledge increased, I became the go-to person for new things,” she reminisced.

But then Munsch spotted a role she aspired to move into at a higher level. “I was told that I couldn’t move into the new role because nobody knew how to fill the spot I had occupied.”

This was a wake-up call. “My ‘get ‘er done’ mentality—as the go-to person, and the only one who knew how to do certain things—got in my way of moving ahead,” says Munsch. “I couldn’t step out of my own role to take on new opportunities.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

You don’t need to lead a team

According to Munsch, you don’t need to lead a team or control resources to influence amazing outcomes, but you do need to let go of being known as the go-to expert and the “get’ er done” gal, and start acting like an influencer.

So what are some ways to make great things happen when you don’t have a team of people reporting to you? Here are three steps for getting started.

1. Find a meaningful problem.

It starts with understanding how to influence without the formal authority of a management job title. And a key to influencing is to find a meaningful problem. “Getting people engaged with an issue that’s greater than them is one of the most effective ways to influence,” says Munsch.

Identify what you believe is a meaningful business problem, advises Munsch. Enlist broad-based support to clearly define the issue and investigate the impact that the problem has been having. “Measure things, as data can help people understand the impact of the problem,” says Munsch. With this approach, you’ll come across people who care about the issue as much as you do. You’ll have rallied support for a common goal.

 2. Start small and go fast.

The problem you tackle should be an important one, though not necessarily large. “Starting small, achieving some wins, showcasing those wins, and securing sponsorship are great ways to accomplish something that doesn’t require a team or a management title,” says Munsch. “Start small, go fast, and grow as you go.”

Start small, but don’t underestimate where this could take you. “There have been multiple times in my career when these opportunities translated into a new role for me,” shares Munsch. “They can grow into full-fledged jobs in the organization.”

3. Utilize a problem-solving methodology.

Munsch recommends developing critical thinking skills. Using a proven framework makes this easier. “Adopt a methodology that works for you, that you’ll always remember, that can serve as a foundation for how to think.” Munsch is a big fan of the DMAIC methodology of Six Sigma.

Sharing a common methodology with your collaborators provides a shortcut for the group when assessing problems and executing solutions. “That way, you can remind yourself and your collaborators to use the methodology while assessing and solving problems,” says Munsch.

With these elements, you can become an influential leader who guides others to solve problems in a more strategic way. “Get your methodology,” says Munsch. “Come up with the problem, but get some support with it. And don’t think for a moment that you must be the manager of the team to make a difference.”

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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