Being a leader without pulling rank

How can you influence people without having to, or being able to pull rank? Especially when you don’t have the possibility of a formal assessment interview, or the chance of giving someone a promotion? You may be in an executive position, the coordinator of a team or the right hand person of someone in charge? Or an executive who wishes to empower people? In both instances, it is important to know how you can influence someone without pulling rank. In this blog, I’ll tell you about it in more detail.


What does ‘leading’ mean? It means being in charge. Most often, you will be in charge of a group of people. When you have to be in charge without pulling rank, this means that you are in charge without formal authorization. Yet, you wish people to do what you would like them to do, or what is required. So essentially, it’s about how you influence people. Influence is about leadership. And as you are not formally authorized, you have to influence people by means of your personal strength, that’s what leading without pulling rank is all about. You guide from your own personal strength, because then, you can introduce people to their own personal strength.

Leading with the brain in mind

When you have the capacity of introducing people to their personal strength, you don’t have to lead them any longer because then, people act from inner motivation. You have in fact activated one of the numerous networks that make up the human brain, you have activated a network that motivates. Two of the many networks in the brain are the reward network and the pain network. If you wish to lead without pulling rank you try your best to put people into the reward network, because if people are in the reward network, leading is no longer necessary. The only thing you have to do is to be clear in defining the direction you wish to take and be an unobtrusive coach.

Guiding yourself

The most crucial point in leading without pulling rank is mobilising your personal strength. To do so, you will have to master the technique of leading and empowering yourself. Once you have this skill, you are no longer dragged along by the turmoil of the day, but you guide yourself and you are much better at empowering others. You’re no longer reactive but you act from strength. Leading yourself is called personal leadership.

Motivating your co-workers

We have discovered how important it is to be in our personal strength. There is a further aspect to be considered: we have to work towards empowering our co-workers. Leading without pulling rank is also creating an environment that empowers others.
It appears that financial incentives are by no means long term motivators. On the other hand, what does motivate is creating a “brain-friendly” environment. Such an environment automatically guides people to the reward network and intrinsic motivation. And hey presto, you have realised long-lasting motivation. What does a brain friendly environment comprise?

  • Create security
  • Give people space and trust
  • Create challenges
  • Provide focus and minimize distraction
  • Show compassion

Demonstrating compassion

I’d like to elaborate a bit further on the aspect of showing compassion. Showing compassing is crucial if you wish to lead without pulling rank. You cannot lead people without investing in a good relationship with them, because this shows them that you care, that you accept them for who and what they are. You can do this by showing an interest and letting them know they matter! Ensure that any and all interaction you have is meaningful.


I started out writing an article for managers who have to lead without pulling rank. But guess what? It appears that there is no difference between formal and informal leadership. Both types of leadership are about leading people by mobilising your strength and the other persons’ strength alike.

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