It’s Monday and you just arrived at the office. You’re going through your morning routine when you get called into a conference room. You see some familiar faces but no one you know personally. Your boss walks in, greets everyone, and starts going over a new project he’s assigning to you and the others in the room. This is a big one, and no one is afraid of voicing their concerns when the deadline is mentioned. The boss reassures the room he’s confident in everyone’s ability to get the job done as long as everyone works together.
Work together? But you guys don’t even know each other!
Let’s look at this hypothetical scenario, and how you could establish yourself in a leadership role here. This is important because if you want to be promoted or get that raise you deserve, stepping up to the plate of leadership is one of the key moves you can make.
“Start acting like you’re in the role you want next.” – Brad Lomenick
One of the popular misconceptions people have about leadership is that you can’t be a leader until you’re put in a leadership position—manager or team captain, for example.
This is a misconception for two reasons.
- Being placed in a leadership position doesn’t make you a leader. Just because someone above you promotes you to a leadership position doesn’t mean the people below you see you as a leader. You still need to earn the trust and respect of your team and prove to them you deserve to lead them.
- One of the critical aspects of effective leaders is the ability to step up to the responsibility and assume leadership. However, this is not to say you should demand that people “follow” you as a leader.
What does it mean to assume leadership? And what does it mean to be a leader if anyone can do it?
The first person to walk into a dark room to show the others it’s safe is a leader. The woman at work who stands up to the manager verbally abusing her coworkers is a leader. The boy on your kid’s basketball team cheering on his teammates from the sidelines is a leader.
What about that friend who makes a decision about where to meet for dinner when everyone else isn’t sure?
He is not only a leader, but a hero for the ages.
A leader is anyone people can rely on for guidance, inspiration, decisiveness, encouragement, and support.
In the initial example, the team for a big project is thrown together but your boss didn’t assign anyone to lead the team. This is your opportunity to step up to the plate.
What do you do first?
Well, since you don’t know anyone in the room personally, you can start by introducing yourself and asking others to do the same.
“Hey, everyone, I’ve seen a few of you around the office but I haven’t had the pleasure of working with you yet. What do you say we go around the room and introduce ourselves so we can start figuring out how we’re going to tackle this project as a team? I’ll start.”
You tell them your name and where you’re from, give a brief overview of your role at the company, and divulge a couple facts about yourself like sports you play or hobbies you have.
You’re stating those things for several reasons:
- You’re giving your name so they can identify you.
- You’re giving a brief overview of your role at the company so the others can get an idea for why you’re on the team.
- You’re telling them where you’re from and divulging a couple facts about yourself so they have a way of relating to you, thus fleshing you out as a person rather than just another employee at the same company.
- Most importantly, you are answering the questions you would want everyone else to answer in order to get a better idea of who each person is on the team.
The first step in leading this team was opening up to make everyone else comfortable doing the same. Nowhere in this initial interaction did you “take charge” or start ordering people around. You led by example.
“Great, thank you for introducing yourselves. I’m looking forward to working with all of you. On that note—it appears we’re working with a tight schedule on this one. Who has some ideas on where we can start and how we can break this down into manageable pieces?”
Again, you didn’t order anyone around. You started building trust and respect by expressing gratitude and a desire to work with everyone. Then you led the team by asking questions about how to get started on tackling the assignment. That allowed others to come forward with their ideas that they can take ownership of.
“Want to build trust? Get empathetic and get curious.” – Brad Lomenick
After some time, everyone arrived at a consensus for who’s going to tackle the different aspects of the project.
“Excellent, I think we’re off to a great start. Thank you all for your input! Unless someone else has something to talk about, I guess the last part we should discuss is accountability. How would all of you prefer to keep the team accountable and on track? I’m used to weekly meetings, or a group email thread, but I’m always open to better suggestions.”
Again, you didn’t give orders and you expressed gratitude. You made some space for anyone to bring up anything else worth talking about, and you attempted to set a closing point for the meeting before returning to your respective work areas.
Congratulations! You just led a team of individuals who didn’t know each other through the basic planning of a project. You stepped up to the plate in the absence of a designated leader. You got to know the members of the team and helped them get to know each other. You built trust and respect by showing gratitude and appreciation. And you allowed everyone to democratically decide how to tackle the project and keep each other on schedule to complete it.
At no point did you declare yourself the leader of the team.
You led by example, as any great leader would do.
I challenge all of you to lead by supporting and encouraging the people around you. In return, they will support and encourage you on your journey to happiness and success.