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Commentary: Ten Ways to Lead Business Change When Someone Else Is Running the Sho

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The global economy has turned the rules of leadership upside down and shaken them vigorously for good measure. Where there was once a fairly defined hierarchy—Boss A tells Worker B what to do and Worker B does it—a flat landscape where everyone is expected to take the reins as needed. That means if Worker B has an idea—a way to make a process more efficient or a new way to get customer feedback—he or she is allowed, even expected, to make it happen.

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In other words, everyone is now a leader. This is great news for entrepreneurially minded employees—but it does pose a challenge for an employee who wants to create change but doesn’t officially run the show.

It can be more challenging for employee-led grassroots movements to spark change, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. While you may not have the long-term resource commitment, and your boss does, you can still be proactive—and successful—if you have a clear vision and a firm commitment.

Being an advocate for change, regardless of where you fall in the organizational chart, can put you in the position of being a team leader—and someone who has great career potential.

Here are 10 ways to be proactive in sparking change:

1. Align individual priorities with organizational goals. No matter where you work, chances are your organization has overarching change goals it is working to meet. Don’t wait to be told what to do—look at those goals and figure out what you can do as an employee to support them.

2. Learn to live with ambiguity. If you’re not running the show (and sometimes, even if you are), there will usually be uncertainty during change. For instance, perhaps leadership hasn’t answered all your questions because not all of the details have been worked out yet. Executives may also have legal reasons for not releasing information. The point is, sometimes it’s in your best interest to roll with the ambiguity.

3. Understand your leadership style first. Even if your business card doesn’t have a powerful title, you are still a leader. And every leader has a particular style and specific strengths. It’s well worth your time to figure out what your style is, how it is seen by others, and how you can apply it to maximize your strengths.

Most leadership assessments come down to four types of leaders: loud and proud; cheerful and optimistic; the strong, silent type; and data driven. You may also be a combination of them. In any case, knowing your own leadership style can help you effectively “manage up” through the organization, coach employees and peers and lead future change projects.

4. Change what you can change: yourself. There is an old saying that too many cooks spoil the soup. Similarly, too many leaders during change can make everything confusing and fragmented. If you are not in a position to formally influence the change, instead of trying to create a leadership role, take the opportunity to change your own attitude, behaviors and beliefs.

5. Influence what you can’t change: others. Even if you aren’t the one running the show, you can still influence the direction of the change. And your position of being “one of them” could even give your opinions a boost with fellow employees. A good way to build trust and respect with your colleagues is to give meaningful and timely feedback with the sole intent of increasing effectiveness and job satisfaction.

Cultivating an atmosphere of openness among your peers will help you influence change, because knowing others’ motivations and interests will help you to explain how the change project will meet their needs. And don’t forget, another great way to influence change is to model the behavior you want to see in others.

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