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You don’t need a title to be a leader, and you don’t need to head up a team to accomplish remarkable things. Not everyone needs to be, or should be, a people leader.
And you don’t need to have people reporting to you to be a leader.
All of the examples I’m about to share come from remarkable leaders I interviewed while writing my book, “Woman of Influence.” They've all made great things happen without managing a team.
They fall into five core leadership types: change, people, results, service and thought leaders. Organizations need them all, but somehow word got around that people leaders are the only type worthy of the title “leader.”
This could not be more wrong!
Who are you as a leader, really? The answer lies not in changing who you are but in revealing where you already sparkle.
As you review the description of each leadership type, see if you can recognize which role you’re best suited to playing.
1. Change Leaders
Change leaders are strategizers, optimizers and roadblock removers. They take large, complex business goals that can’t be achieved by an organization in its current state and lead transformation so the goal becomes possible.
They eliminate inefficiencies and break down barriers that others fail to see.
Kathy Tyra once worked at a company that kept having problems with either too much inventory or not enough. Kathy, now vice president of workplace resources and real estate with a tech company, saw the mounting delays and costs and decided there had to be a better way.
She worked with vendors to come up with a plan to streamline the materials pipeline without causing delays to customers, and she spent a good deal of time thinking through how it would work.
She solicited input from co-workers, leaders, customers and suppliers, and she delivered presentations to communicate the idea.
“Because I used a collaborative process, everyone felt ownership for making the implementation a success,” she says.
Signs that you’re a change leader:
- You can’t help but spot improvements that could make life easier for your customers or team.
- You love to attack a stretch goal by changing underlying conditions and mindsets that could be preventing the goal from being realized.
- You have a passion for excellence and are always looking for a smarter, faster, more efficient way to get things done.
2. People Leaders
People leaders take time to understand others, identifying their strengths and exploring what motivates them. They build people up and help them grow.
They also ensure that the right people are in the right roles and everyone’s working together as a team, focused on a common goal.
“Our team had a technology project to complete that was new for all of us,” says Ann Finkner, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Farm Credit Services of America.
Reflecting on a time when she held an individual contributor role, she explained that most people on the team didn’t know where to start or even what needed to get done.
Not knowing the answers, either, Ann offered to lead the project on behalf of the team. The project’s success required not only understanding the new technology but also educating and engaging her teammates.
“It became a catalyst for my career to evolve into higher-level leadership,” says Ann.
When I asked Ann about the traits she now most appreciates seeing in aspiring people leaders in her organization, she described how they artfully blend personal risk taking with patience, teamwork, and collaboration. Their standout skills include listening, asking good questions, and being inquisitive.
Signs that you’re a people leader:
- You enjoy motivating, empowering and developing people.
- You give credit to others and recognize people who do great work.
- Your greatest joy is seeing others succeed.
3. Results Leaders
Results leaders are attracted to audacious targets and will do what it takes to achieve them.
They are ambitious, persistent and tenacious “goal-getters” who enjoy celebrating success and recognizing others when they win. This type of leader has a knack for interpersonal influence and rallying others around a challenging goal.
“I always make my number,” says one results-oriented operations leader who has never been in charge of a large team or a big budget but knows how to enlist support from across her organization.
Alice Katwan is now senior vice president of North America sales at Salesforce, but her first sales role was at Montgomery Ward, where she sold drapes and blinds.
She was the top salesperson. Never mind that she was only part time and still in high school.
Alice loved being able to objectively measure and track her performance.
“I have always liked being able to know where I stand at all times,” she says. “No one can argue with the numbers.”
Later, working her way through college, Alice sold faucets and toilets for a kitchen and bathroom supplier, where again she was the top salesperson. Her results-oriented drive gave her a sense of job security.
“Because I exceeded my monthly sales targets, I was able to focus on school instead of worrying about whether I was doing a good job,” she recalls.
Signs that you’re a results leader:
- You get fired up by having clear, meaningful, measurable goals and unleashing the competitive spirit in others.
- You thrive in competitive work environments.
- When faced with a demanding goal that might make others crumple, you say “watch me.”
4. Service Leaders
Service leaders are fueled by fierce determination to make life better or easier for people — whether they’re clients, consumers or even humankind.
They champion the products, services, solutions, or experiences that customers love. They see themselves as partners, advocates and activists.
They have the uncanny ability to step into another’s shoes, comprehend that person’s situation and channel that empathy into solutions and tangible change.
Service leaders were the rarest leadership type among those I surveyed. Our world needs more of them.
Liz Brenner, a former vice president of human resources, counts customer-centric thinking as one of her most deeply ingrained core values.
Years ago, Liz was asked to develop a unified digital marketing strategy for her company’s services.
Each service had its own marketing person or team, and all were vocal about why their agenda mattered most. Liz put on her “customer hat” to push for a more holistic view and corralled her peer group to speak with one voice.
Says Liz, “We often get so involved in our day-to-day work that we lose sight of the big picture and who we are trying to serve.”
She went on to take increasingly customer-centric roles, at first championing the cause of external customers and later her company’s employees.
Signs that you’re a service leader:
- You side with your customers, elevate their voice and champion their cause.
- Your values and personal mission come alive in your work.
- Your purpose is to stand up for others and help them thrive.
5. Thought Leaders
“Thought leaders are the trusted opinion leaders and go-to people in their fields of expertise,” says Denise Brosseau, author of “Ready to Be a Thought Leader?” They are more than just “ideas” people.
“They galvanize and inspire others with innovative ideas and help them scale those ideas into sustainable change,” says Denise.
They build deep, specialized expertise in an area they’re passionate about. They work to stay on trend with new developments, and they contribute game-changing breakthroughs to their field, cause, or industry.
Nina Bhatti is director of engineering at Google Cloud.
Early in her career as a researcher and technologist, the CEO of her company signed a deal with an important customer, promising cutting-edge innovations that no other supplier could deliver. There was just one problem.
“Nobody knew what that meant, and people were scared,” says Nina, who holds 24 patents and invented the first accurate color-matching system that worked on smartphones.
She raised her hand and asked to lead the project. As she listened to her customers describe their challenges, Nina realized they wanted to move into the mobile space.
She went on to contribute new mobile-computing technologies and build first-of-a-kind solutions.
Signs that you’re a thought leader:
- You’re passionate about your area of expertise, have a thirst for learning, and love to share your knowledge with others.
- You’re always looking for ways to apply your knowledge to make a difference.
- You light up when you discover a challenging problem to solve.
Every leader needs to drive change, engage and empower others, deliver results, make a positive impact and generate big ideas. You’ll hopscotch across the boundaries every day.
The question is which you’re most at home with and what role really makes you light up.
Adapted from "Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive" (McGraw-Hill, 2019), by Jo Miller. Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership; www.jomiller.com; @jomillerauthor.