how to lead when you’re not a boss

How to Show Leadership When You Aren’t in Charge

Leadership encompasses far more than just a title. Anyone can become a leader simply by saying the right things to get them that promotion — but being called a leader and doing the work of leading others are two very different things. In fact, you can be a “leader” long before you’ve ever been given the title. If you’re serious about someday stepping into a leadership role, you should start showcasing your leadership skills now, no matter what your current job title is.

To help you get into the mindset of a leader, here are just a few things you could start doing today — signaling to yourself and others that you’re ready to take the helm and inspire the team.

Be decisive

Since a core part of leadership is decision-making, leaders must be confident when giving directions and supporting their colleagues. Employees at any level can embrace decisiveness by being consistent, keeping true to their word, and clearly communicating with other team members.

Build trust

When exercising your leadership skills, trustworthiness is key. Team members thrive when their leaders listen to them, support them, and exercise fair judgment. Having trust in your coworkers is also integral to a healthy workplace environment, as you need to rely on your peers to complete their part of a project, provide the necessary support, and offer constructive feedback. Because it can take some time to develop trust, it’s important to start building those relationships from your first day on the job.


Open communication is critical to the health of any business or relationship, and it’s necessary at all levels of employment. Clear and direct communication is one of the hallmarks of an excellent leader, so practicing these skills with your supervisors, coworkers, and customers or clients will serve you well now (and in the future).

Encourage your peers

Leadership involves many interpersonal soft skills. Keeping morale and motivation up ensures productivity and employee retention. Even though you may not be the boss, you still play an important role in promoting a positive organizational culture. Some excellent ways to promote a healthy and welcoming environment for all employees include:

  • Collaborate with others
  • Don’t glorify overworking
  • Encourage healthy risk-taking and celebrate learning from mistakes
  • Genuinely listen to others’ ideas
  • Have a growth mindset
  • Make space for team-building opportunities
  • Offer constructive feedback
  • Recognize small and large successes

Interested in learning more about Goodwin’s MSOL program? Check out our interview with Elizabeth Giannetta-Ramos, co-founder of the COMPASS Youth Collaborative, to hear about her experience as an MSOL alum!


Take on leadership opportunities whenever possible

Even if you are not an official leader, most companies still provide opportunities for you to take the helm on certain assignments and tasks. Whether it’s organizing a company retreat, joining a union executive board, or taking the lead on a new project, you can guide your team regardless of where you sit in the hierarchy. Taking the initiative to be a leader whenever possible helps you build your resumé, demonstrate your expertise, and earn beneficial hands-on experience.

Stay confident

Confidence is one of the hardest qualities to master as a leader — between self-doubt and imposter syndrome, employees at any level can struggle with self-assurance.

Confident leaders listen to and take feedback, but they don’t assume they are always correct. They never talk down to employees, but they stand by their decisions and don’t shy away from making difficult choices — especially when a decision is best for their company and protects a healthy workplace environment.

Practicing confidence in your current professional role can help prepare you for promotion and management roles without the pressure of becoming an official leader just yet. If you are nervous, then enrolling in a leadership program, such as Goodwin’s MSOL program, can help you develop confidence in your leadership abilities and style.

Take the initiative

Not being in charge doesn’t mean you can’t take initiative. If you spot a need in your company, offer a solution and follow through on your idea.

Try taking initiative in your workplace by:

  • Finding more efficient ways to complete tasks
  • Proposing new ideas for projects
  • Organizing company events, team activities, or training sessions
  • Suggesting ideas that could benefit the company, your coworkers, or your workplace culture

Why practicing leadership matters

While an entry-level position may not be your end goal, you always have the power to create opportunities that strengthen your leadership skills and help you learn what it takes to be a good leader. Furthermore, by taking charge of projects or extra-curricular events, you can build your resumé — advancing your professional future and increasing your long-term earning potential.

Are you ready to advance your career? Learn more about how Goodwin’s MSOL program can help you become a stronger leader. Call 800-889-3282 or text 860-467-1511.