Leading When I’m Not a Leader
I enjoy the topic of leadership – I enjoy talking about it, learning about it, examining it, and watching great leaders at work. When I think of great teams or great successes, I often look for the great leader behind the accomplishments. While I won’t go into detail on any specific examples right now, I will begin with a quote by one of my favorite authors and leadership experts, John C. Maxwell, who says, “Leadership is influence: nothing more, nothing less.”
As someone who has not officially held a position with a leadership title (Manager, Supervisor, etc.) in a few years, I have learned to navigate through different projects and issues by finding my fit, learning the functionality of the teams on which I have served, and leveraging as much influence as I can to help produce results. I’d like to share with you my experience as a Positional Leader (see John Maxwell's 5 Levels of Leadership) and how I have utilized this knowledge to make progress in my
How Do I Do This?
To begin, I’d like to examine two areas that I believe are necessary for great leaders: Respect and Communication. Both have their own merit, and work together to create a great environment of success and achievement. In this article, I’d like to share with you how I am learning and have learned to work with my team members to make progress toward and achieve goals.
Find Out What It Means to Me
One of the most important aspects of any relationship is respect. I always feel like people tend to listen, respond, and produce more in an environment where they know they are respected. So one of the first things I always try to do is to ensure people with whom I work know they are respected. The best way to do that, I find, is by extending common courtesies. As simple as it may sound, adding a simple “thank you” or “nice work” to any communication can go a long way. But it goes beyond that. Anyone can say thank you at any time, but I find it best to add a bit of content to my expressions of gratitude.
One example I have involves a coworker who always gives me great responses when I ask for help or information. A great response is, in my opinion, one that is comprehensive in its content, courteous in its manner, and complete in its communication style. More than just, a simple “yes” or “here you go”, she always provides me with links, files, and even information regarding other resources that be beneficial. What’s more, she always finishes her emails with comments like “I hope this helps” or “let me know if you have any questions.” It may not seem like much, but without those extensions of her courtesies, her communication would create a much more impersonal mode of communication with me.
So how do I extend my respect to her? I thank her. Do I simply reply by email with a simple, relatively thoughtless “thanks”? No way. Why bother even doing that. To me, that is just like saying, “Got it” or “Ok”. Rather, I find it best to go a bit above and beyond and send a personal message of thanks. At Fish & Richardson P.C., we have eCards, which are ways we can send personal expressions of gratitude or recognition whenever a situation merits such action, and also copies the employee’s manager so as to inform them of their employee’s great work. In the example above, I sent an eCard to my coworker and pointed out the specifics of my gratitude. I said something like, “Thank you for helping me with today’s project. I always know I’m going to get excellent information when I work with you.”
I can also tell you that, on more than one occasion, people have gone out of their way (by either calling me on the phone, sending a separate email, or commenting in person) to let me know they appreciated their eCards. What a tremendous effect a few minutes of my efforts has had!
What We Have Here is a…
As you establish a culture of respect, I also find it vitally necessary to establish and maintain clear lines of communication. Yes, emails, instant messages, and text messages can go a long way, but they each have their place. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read a text message or email and completely misunderstood the message or the meaning behind it. Is it more work to call someone? It depends, I guess, on whether a miscommunication will produce more problems for you in the long run or not. How hard is it to pick up the phone or walk to another person’s office to clarify content or intent? Uncomfortable? Maybe. But what are you gaining by doing so? Respect, progress, confidence, and probably improved results and mitigated disaster!
My favorite example of this came when I was managing a training project at a medical device company. I was charged with the task of updating the training records of all the production associates, which included work audits and training checklists. There were, at the time, between 100-150 employee records to update and maintain, so I needed some help. I enlisted the help of all of the Production Supervisors, which was about 30 different people whose work schedules spanned 3 different shifts. Quite the task.
I began by creating different email distribution lists and sending out messages that explained the project and what I was asking of them. Most responded, but that just made my task that much bigger now that I had 30-40 new emails each day to mine for information. While this method was relatively useful in that I was able to acquire much of the necessary training documentation I needed, it was by no means efficient.
It was at that time that my manager suggested daily meetings with the supervisors. I didn’t need to schedule 30- or 60-minute meetings on a daily basis, just a simply 2-3-minute check-in to connect on all points of progress. So, I set up meetings with all supervisors as a daily “stand-up” type of meeting. This enabled me to communicate much more regularly, concisely, and comprehensively with everyone. What I wasn’t expecting, though, is the collaboration that ensued. It was great. I completed our project ahead of schedule.
What I have taken away from both of these experiences is the necessity to learn how the teams in which I work function. Neither of these two situations were ones in which people reported to or were accountable to me. I had to learn to gain their respect and communicate openly and clearly so as to move forward with and complete our work. Gratitude and regular meetings went a long way, but both were implemented within the working relationships of our team.
So let me encourage you today – if it’s not in your daily vernacular already, start to implement the phrase “thank you”. While you’re at it, pick up the phone and use the calling function of it every now and then. You may just be surprised at the responses you receive!