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Three ways to lead when you don’t have the title

A woman stands in front of a group of co-workers

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Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from The Titleless Leader: How to Get Thing Done When You're Not in Charge (c) 2012 Nan S. Russell. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, N.J. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.

What is dependable politics?

People who consistently get results without being in charge, use a dependable politics approach. Their actions come from a place of integrity, ethics, and best-of-self behaviours. Their well-intentioned style yields trustworthy politics, resulting in a positive use of influence others can depend on.

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People with a dependable politics approach, aren't typically perceived as "political." According to professor Gerald Ferris in Political Skill at Work, "If you have political skill, you appear not to have it. Truly skilled execution of the behaviours associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward, and effective." By contrast he says, "Leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving."

How Politically Savvy Are You?

Consider this reflective exercise. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate yourself.

1= never 2= rarely 3= sometimes 4= usually 5 = almost always

1. Operating with trust is something I do at work.

2. I consider how my actions might impact my relationships, and adjust accordingly.

3. No matter the issue or frustration level, I stop myself from reciprocal "dark-side" politics or emotional outbursts.

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4. I create positive political capital by doing things with ethics and integrity.

5. I build and nurture strong work networks, keeping others in-the-loop.

6. I consciously decide what stories I tell, recognizing their impact on office politics.

7. I'm willing to take risks and put myself out there in order to make a positive difference.

8. I make decisions by considering the big picture or group impact, not what's in it for me.

9. I regularly use titleless leadership behaviours as a way to get things done at work.

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10. I operate with well-meaning intentions.

Self-assessment scoring: If you scored 38 or more points, you're more often than not operating with dependable politics know-how. If you scored fewer than 38, note your intention and behaviours more frequently, particularly those diminishing trust or relationships.

Politics are not what most of us think. They're merely a way to get things done. Dependable politics is getting things done the right way. "Right" in this context means operating with ethics, integrity, and positive intention that builds lasting relationships. Assisting other departments, sharing information, and interdepartmental collaboration are politics, too. Don't let old beliefs about company politics interfere with your practice of dependable politics.

Cornell professor Samuel B. Bacharach and author of Get Them on Your Side, offers this perspective, "Political competence is not an evil by product of organizational life. Being political, in its most attractive light, is being aware of the interests of others, finding areas of common ground, bringing others on board, and leading them in the pursuit of a goal." As long as our objectives and goals are not manipulative or hostile, political savvy isn't negative; it's necessary. As Bacharach notes, "Without political competence, you can have the best of intentions, the most brilliant of ideas, the most exquisite processes of execution, but you'll be unlikely to succeed in making things happen in your organization."

The how-to behind dependable politics

You have a choice how you use your political currency, influence, and role. You can serve your brand of politics from well-intentioned thoughts or manipulative self-interest. Each impacts differently. How you serve your politics is ultimately a result of how you show up, in the deepest sense. That understanding is central to dependable politics.

Also central are the following operating skills:

The musketeer approach

When people are more focused on what's happening in the cube next to them than on achieving organizational goals, everyone loses. When office politics fill e-mails with mixed direction, stalling productivity, everyone loses. And when discretionary effort and new ideas are swallowed in pits of bureaucracy, guess what? Everyone loses.

The Three Musketeers got it right – "All for one and one for all!" Each understanding his fate as an individual was tied to their fate as a group. Operating as a musketeer requires focus on long-term relationship building.

A few tips for forging workplace relationships that work:

Being a Musketeer

Want the best for others.

When you want the best for someone, you're not green with envy when they do well, you're celebrating. When you desire others to reach goals, follow dreams, and achieve their life's potential, you support and help them. And when you're engaged in a better together approach, you help bring out their best. There's a bit of magic, too – wanting the best for someone else brings out the best in you.

Operate with unspoken commitments.

Seventeenth-century musketeers understood if one was in trouble, they all were in trouble. Today's musketeers have an unspoken commitment, too. It's to the bigger whole, whether that's a team, organization, community, or world. With that framework, people step up, volunteer, and offer resources to ensure the whole flourishes. When you do, others see you as beyond self-interest, and that builds trust. When people trust you and can expect your politics to align with organizational goals or operate for a common good, you'll build strong relationships and a reciprocal network.

Own your truth.

Accountability is this century's requirement to be a musketeer. People respect, trust, and follow people who don't hide their mistakes, invent cover-ups, or blame others; people who step up, own a problem and work to fix it. In an era where it's difficult to trust the messages or the messengers, integrity is the root of individual influence and essential for dependable politics.

Being a musketeer builds relationship capital. That capital builds equity for the long-term, helping you survive work's potholes, others' dark-side antics, and organizational upheaval. It keeps you grounded in best-of-self behaviours, while communicating you're trustworthy to others.

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