Connect the dots; leading by the dotted line

Nov 16, 2023

How often do you see dotted lines on organisational charts, or work along side roles that are leading by influence and have no direct reports.


You have responsibility.  You have accountability.  You have limited power or authority. That is leading via the dotted line.  It can be one of the trickiest positions to be in, but you can make it work with the right influence and strategies.


The hardest part is knowing how to get people on board with your ideas and recommendations when they don’t report to you or you have no formal authority.


The short answer is through interpersonal dynamics and building relationships. For those of us who prefer a clear roadmap with a straight line, this can be a bit disconcerting.  Working via the dotted line relies on building trust which means you need to consistently show your value and commitment.


How to get started …

Firstly, people need clarity on what your role is and where you fit in.  You still need to own your space and be seen as the authority on your topic, or be the go to person for your area.


You need great relationships with the leaders around you.  They are your conduit to be a part of their teams and ensure you have a place in shared goals and shared success.  You are like the extra team member they can’t live without. 


The next steps …

Then you start implementing your strategies to make dotted line leadership work over time.


·       Have clear and agreed guidelines and expectations with all stakeholders,

·       Find common overlap; what can you do for them, and what can they do for you?

·       Frame your work in a way that makes it helpful and useful to others rather than one more thing they need to do,

·       Create clear links between what you deliver and what is important to them, their motivations and values,

·       Intentionally build connection and shared priorities,

·       Be authentic, genuine, transparent and open about your intentions.


Leading by the dotted line can be like trying to conduct an orchestra with an invisible baton, challenging, but rewarding when done right.  It is also a way to increase your influence and relationships across your organisation.


Even if the dotted line doesn’t formally exist, this can be a great way to build your leadership and work with a wide range of stakeholders and leaders in your business.

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