Assumed Leadership: Why Better Leaders Don’t Seek Permission!

what is assumed leadership? from a better leader

Assumed leadership doesn’t mean ‘squatter’s rights’ and it isn’t rude. It doesn’t run over co-workers or wrestle power from others. It’s not even a renegade concept. The truth is, any company knows that finding and developing the leadership talent required to navigate an increasingly complex and demanding business environment never seems to get any easier.

Despite that, there’s no doubt that many great and gifted candidates exist out there; and one of the saddest tragedies of all is to fail to recognize this talent, especially when it’s hiding away unnoticed within your own organization. Employee turnover can be one of the main results of this lack of recognition. It can also be difficult to control. Replacing your employees is extremely costly, so it is of utmost importance to take note of those employees that are already deeply engaged. Unfortunately, when companies fail to realize the management potential of their employees, these employees may think they cannot develop and grow there. This could drive some of your top internal candidates for management away to seek positions elsewhere.

To meet this challenge, a new approach to recruitment and training is being developed. This approach, known as “assumed leadership,” seeks, fundamentally, to empower prospective leadership candidates to assume leadership. These roles are outside of, or in parallel to, any formal recognition of the position.

The model of assumed leadership democratizes and distributes management potential. The idea is that those with the capacity and skills to take on these roles are able to rise to their potential, unencumbered by the lengthy and, at times, needlessly bureaucratic hiring filters that can stifle the flourishing of capable employees.

What does it mean to be a leader?

Thinking Outside the (Leadership) Box

One such provider of development training packages is the U.K.-founded Common Purpose organization, a global leadership organization devoted to developing leaders. In the words of Julia Middleton, Common Purpose’s Chief Executive, the company seeks to equip individuals with the ability to “lead beyond authority.” But what does this mean in practice, and how can you implement this ethos into the structure of your own business operation?

Concerns with this idea include compensation, the definition of responsibilities, and interaction among team members.

A Barrier to Assumed Leadership: Circles of Authority

The first problem to solve when it comes to liberating leadership talent is to recognize that your employees, (both in management and at a staff level) operate in certain circles of authority. These are:

The Inner Circle: Individuals exercise often large amounts of personal authority within the company hierarchy.

The Outer Circle: Intra-organizational authority, which is normally substantially less than in the Inner Circle.

The Circle of Society: Everything outside of the Inner and Outer Circles, where actions are mandated through civil and cultural norms, and authority is not normally a part of relational activity.

The dilemma that these circles of authority present is that success in one sphere of influence does not necessarily translate into success in another. This is highly problematic in a world where globalization is likely and hierarchies within the workplace are evolving or even becoming obsolete.

How to assume leadership role at work

Breaking the Boundaries

For your leaders (whether already recognized as such, or taking the assumptive role) to initiate change, they’ve got to dissolve the barriers between these circles of influence. The idea of assumed leadership means they can become the vanguard of leadership that your company is longing for.

This breaking of boundaries can be achieved in many ways. Training leaders to be passionate about the company’s mission is one way to do this. Inspiring leaders to be courageous in their drive to see change is another.  Intentionally training leaders to be able to reflect on their own source of power — whether personal qualities, the networks they’ve created, or the colleagues they surround themselves with — is another valid way of breaking boundaries and creating an environment for assumed leadership.

One real-world example of this approach is the role of “brand ambassador,” and the world-famous drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola has its own Coca-Cola Enterprises Ambassador program.

Empowering workers to transcend their own Inner Circle of responsibilities, the initiative allows employees to take their message into the community — the Outer Circle, if you will — and engage with customers, would-be-customers, and essentially anyone who’s willing to hear their message on a one-to-one basis. Confidence in the scheme is high, and reports suggest that trust in the brand “radiates to the outside world” through its outreach and educational endeavors.


Is Assumed Leadership Right for You?

Of course, this leadership style does not necessarily fit every organization. It’s important to take a closer look at the leaders in your organization and recognize whether it would work in your workplace or not. Additionally, it requires an openness and ability to abandon traditional hierarchies in favor of individual strengths. If your company would like to apply the principles of assumed authority to grow and innovate, visit us at A Better Leader today to find out how to inspire great leaders!

What do you think? Could you make room for assumed leadership in your organization? Comment below – your voice matters!

Chris Craddock

As the leader of Projections' production team, Chris loves to inspire others to perform at the highest levels! From the most challenging leadership opportunities to brainstorming the latest topics leaders want to learn about, Chris provides clear direction and vision.