How leaders without title play a role in transformation

Title or no title, some people are just born leaders, guides and mentors

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Not everyone in an organisation or a team has a fancy designation to flaunt. However, that doesn’t keep them from commanding respect. In fact, more often, such people are held in high esteem and respected by most people in the organisation. They are known to be helpful, knowledgeable and experienced, and therefore, very dependable.

These leaders may be without titles, but know more about the working of the organisation than anyone else. While speaking with HRKatha, Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, recalls his stint at Bennett Coleman & CO (BCCL), wherein he got to interact with many people without titles.

When he joined BCCL, Mukherjee was quick to recognise such people in his team. They were quite old in the system and had established a great network in the company, which often spread right up to the founders and owners.

“While such untitled leaders are very good at what they do, their education level often becomes a roadblock in their path to reaching a higher position”

Anil Mohanty, head of people, Medikabazaar

Though they were reporting to him, he treated them as equals. “I got to learn a lot about the organisation and how things worked in the company from them. Since these people commanded respect and had a reputation in the company, they were quite handy in certain situations and helped make some breakthroughs,” admits Mukherjee.

Despite not occupying a high position in the organisational hierarchy, such people serve as the change agents in a company. “I call such people ‘influencers’, as they are quite respected and popular amongst the people of the organisation,” says VDV Singh, CHRO, Rockman Industries.

Singh finds such people very useful in bringing about a transformation or a change in the company. This is because people follow them, and they have the personality that influences people to follow them. Therefore, they can be great change champions for the organisation.

It is generally observed that guiding and mentoring comes naturally to such people. Therefore, they make great mentors or buddies for the new hires and can actually be considered to spearhead the induction programme.

Moreover, Singh observes that people are so connected with such people in the company, that they end up being the binding force of the team they are part of. “The managers actually need them to keep the teams together,” observes Singh.

If these people are such great influences and leaders, why do they fail to reach the top level in the organisation?

Anil Mohanty, head of people, Medikabazaar, cites an example of one of his colleagues who had great leadership skills, was highly knowledgeable and was an exceptional individual contributor as well. “He had all the qualities and potential to become a CFO,” Mohanty recalls. However, since he was not qualified to be a CFO, he could not make it. Such examples abound across sectors. In management roles as well, many miss the opportunity for a higher designation simply because do not possess an MBA degree.

“Generally, organisations tend to focus on the high potentials and the best performers, and such solid citizens in the company are often ignored”

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries

“While these employees are very good at what they do, their education level often becomes a roadblock in their path to reaching a higher position,” explains Mohanty.

Chandrasekhar feels that even personal reasons prevent such people from climbing up the corporate ladder. “There are people who refuse certain opportunities that come their way, as they do not wish to relocate and leave their families. Sometimes, they are happy remaining as individual contributors,” mentions Chandrasekhar.

Though HR leaders do recognise that these people are important for the organisation, companies fail to pay attention to them. “Generally, organisations tend to focus on the high potentials and the best performers, and such people are often ignored. I call such people ‘solid citizens’ who are the backbone of a company. I believe such people are the most important lot in the organisation,” asserts Chandrasekhar.

Managers cannot afford to disengage such people Singh says. “Though such people are a critical talent for the company, if they are not managed well, they can end up as the biggest roadblocks for the managers,” says Singh.

Sharing his experience, Chandrasekhar says that these employees do not demand much except for respect and fair rewards for their work. Apart from that, they need to be treated as managers.

“The managers actually need such influencers to keep the teams together”

VDV Singh, CHRO, Rockman Industries

When Chandrasekhar was with BCCL, he made sure to take out time to have lunch with these people in an executive cafeteria. If required, rather than calling them to his own cabin, as a manager, Chandrasekhar himself went to their desks for work. “After all, such people are seniors in the company, but got left behind due to various reasons. When they see youngsters as their managers, they do feel bad about it. Therefore, it becomes important for young managers to treat them as equals and not as if you are their boss,” shares Chandrasekhar.

Often, HR leaders find that such people are very well connected within the organistion. In older companies such as Tata, Mahindra or Aditya Birla, there are many people who may not have a high position in the organisation, but may have direct relations with the founders since they are very old in the system. For managers, messing with such people may backfire bigtime.

We can call them ‘leaders without titles’, or ‘influencers’ or ‘solid citizens’ of the organisation. What is most important is to recognise that they are central to the company — in certain crisis situations, these are the people who can bring about breakthroughs.

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