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Many managers think that a new promotion will automatically confer added authority.  But true leadership comes from who you are, not from a new rank or title.

We see this in “unofficial leaders”: workers who carry natural authority, which is not reflected in their official responsibilities.  The scenario is common and the options for managers are few:

1)  Bring them into the fold

Work with those who carry others with them, honour their contribution, be honest about your concerns, express your appreciation and draw them into the team.

This can be the most successful leadership strategy of all, so long as you can convince the person that your own goals objectives and strategy are going to create a better world than the alternatives.

The risk is that the other person gains privileged access, and a more powerful platform to promote a dissenting view.  This is always the strongest option, assuming that the one “in charge” had the leadership capabilities to carry it out, and the self-confidence to manage the extra electricity within the team.

2)  Ignore and marginalise

Just hope the problem goes away.  It may not.

If the person is as gifted as we think he or she is, and as influential, it won’t be long before they are talking informally to those you report to, and if they have any sense they will realise the importance of being close to what he is thinking – simply because of the far-reaching nature of their informal footprint.

Their insights into the organisation as a whole may be invaluable.  He or she is likely to be a great networker, and could even network you out of a job.

3)  Counsel them out

Talk with the person and encourage him or her to spread wings and apply for other internal posts where they can have room to flourish, open doors for him, invest in his success, and encourage him positively to change up a gear in thinking about other opportunities perhaps elsewhere.

This is a risky course that could also land you in legal trouble if he thinks he is being blocked for promotion in your own department for some reason, or even worse, is being victimised in terms of future employment.

Adapted from Building a Better Business book by Patrick Dixon.

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