Do you know how to lead when you’re not in charge? Leading when you’re not the boss is difficult. However, you can be an informal leader in any environment.
Think of it this way. Can you think of a person at work who wasn’t in charge, but people followed what they said? You can either be a good or bad influence when leading your peers, so pay attention.
Here are some things I have used and have worked for me.
Evaluate your character
It’s easy to do the wrong thing when people are not watching. Just like George Orwell’s book 1984, Big Brother is always watching. It may not be a TV or computer screen, but your peers constantly watch your reactions. Your credibility is critical when leading your peers.
Take an inventory of your character. Are you doing what’s right when no one is watching? Are you cutting corners when you know you shouldn’t? Are you helping your co-workers and making them look good?
For me, I compete with my peers for ratings. Evaluations can be zero-sum, and it’s discouraging when your peer gets a better mark than you do. However, people with good character will reflect on their shortcomings and learn from others. It takes character to ward off envy.
I once sat in an empty office for several weeks while my co-workers were attending a conference. It would have been easy to take advantage of the freedom and go home at noon every day. But I chose to stay and support my new coworkers, many of whom I had never met. It reflected well on me, and I received praise for taking care of the office while everyone trained elsewhere.
Remember, integrity is essential.
Be respectful to your coworkers
We have enough rude behavior right now. Choose respect as your default. You can choose your reactions and your emotions. When you choose respect, you leave communication doors wide open.
I have had coworkers who were notoriously combative in word and deed. Be kind to these people and listen. Showing respect to the most argumentative person at work shows deep concern for the organization’s well-being.
Here’s how I show my respect to people:
-Listening: when your peers or subordinates are talking, listen. Don’t think of a response. Chances are, your retort isn’t as clever as you think, and it may drive a wedge between you and the other person.
-Greet people warmly: I have a warm personality, so this comes naturally. But if you know you’re not the friendly type, think about one good thing and then greet someone with a smile. It goes a long way to remember nice experiences.
-Eye contact: I use eye contact often. It shows connection during the conversation. I make them feel important. I can usually tell when someone isn’t engaged in a conversation when they start looking elsewhere or pull out their phone.
Lastly. Please. If you’re in a conversation, put the phone down. Part of knowing how to lead when you’re not in charge is to act as if you are equal to another. Be courteous. Put the phone down.
Support in public, argue in private
Complaining will cost you credibility in your organization. Poor decisions happen, and complaining doesn’t help anyone, especially yourself. If your status quo is to gripe to your friends about a policy or memo that just came out, I recommend trying a different approach.
Asking good questions for clarification about a grievance shows professionalism. Do this privately. Approach the boss with understanding and a willingness to learn. Remember, your boss is human, too, and is susceptible to emotional outrages like you. Here’s how I would do it:
-Talk about impacts: People like to see numbers and data. Whether qualitative or quantitative, data can support your concerns. How has (said policy) affected the workplace? Is there another way to accomplish the same task without (said policy)?
-Attack the problem, not the person: People take pride in their work. Go into a discussion with a united goal in mind. So, talk about how the offending policy will affect the company. Resorting to personal attacks will only foster hard feelings.
-Have a solution prepared: If you walk into your boss’s office with a list of gripes without solutions, you won’t be contributing to the answer. Come prepared—present plausible solutions for discussion.
Most of all, do this in private. Then, support the final decision as if it were yours.
Leading when you’re not in charge is one of the hardest things to do in the workplace. Your boss and co-workers rely on you to do your job, but you don’t want to be the brown-noser either. Genuine leadership comes from a desire to serve those around you.
Choose to help your co-workers. It is easier said than done, but how do you want to live at work? Do you want to control your work experience or be controlled? Serving your coworkers will create an aura of leadership that people will recognize.
How do you lead when you don’t have a leadership responsibility? Contribute to the conversation below. Thanks for reading!
If you want a book review for George Orwell’s book 1984, click here.
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