Jim Kouzes writes in the foreword of The Hidden Leader that “Our images of who’s a leader and who’s not are all mixed up in our preconceived notions about what leadership is and isn’t.” Well put. That is the issue.
He goes on to say that “hidden leaders are those people in your organization who share the belief that what they do matters.” And they are all around us.
The authors Scott Edinger and Laurie Sain have developed some key indicators for finding the hidden leaders in your organization or team. These people can be “defined, identified, nurtured, and encouraged to help an organization develop a competitive edge.” Some will accept a position and others will prefer to stay off the organizational chart, but all can drive excellence throughout the organization.
Hidden leaders display four key identifiers: they demonstrate integrity, lead through relationships, focus on results, and remain customer-focused no matter what role they have in the organization. Let’s look at them one by one:
Demonstrate Integrity. Edinger and Sain believe that this is the “absolute bottom-line requirement of hidden leadership.” It means a consistent display in thoughts and actions of a strong ethical code of conduct that is “focused on the welfare of everyone.” Their consistent adherence to their beliefs makes them predictable and therefore dependable. They have the courage to do the right thing even when it is difficult.
Lead Through Relationships. Leading through relationships is the basis of leadership. They get along with others and value others. They “lead and inspire because of who they are and how they interact with others.” They don’t depend on their position or lack of it to influence the actions of others.
Focus on Results. The hidden leader “maintains a wide perspective and acts with independent initiative.” They use the end to define the means, which can mean working outside of strict processes to achieve the end result. “They aim for the end they are supposed to produce” so “they feel responsible and accountable, not just for the demands of their jobs but also for successful outcomes for stakeholders involved.”
Remains Customer Purposed. This is different than customer service; it is an “awareness of how an action in a specific job affects the customer.” It is a big-picture focus and having a deep understanding of the value promise of an organization.
For some hidden leaders one characteristic may dominate and others may need to be fully developed, but a hidden leader who lacks integrity, isn’t a hidden leader. Any leader needs support from other leaders in the organization and a good leader will make a priority out of developing others.
Hidden leaders are easier to spot in flatter organizations and those that provide a greater number of areas to contribute. Listening to people at all levels is a big part of that.
By recognizing hidden leaders we help to create a culture that develops more leaders. The hidden leaders are there. It is a leader’s responsibility to discover and develop them.
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