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7 Tips For The Unofficial Leader In You
A leader can take many forms in many different business situations, often when a person isnít even ďthe BossĒ. If you find yourself in a group with a deadline with no leader in sight, you may have to be the one to take charge. When this happens, what should you do and NOT do?
When people normally think of a leader in business they think of the boss, but being a leader doesnít require a fancy title, or even official recognition. Leadership simply needs one person to stand up, take charge, and achieve the goal. In an ad hoc or temporary group, others might not see someone as the leader, but that one person could still make sure the group operates as a team and accomplishes their goal.
How can someone who has not been anointed or appointed accomplish this? Here are some tips for those that find themselves in an unofficial leadership role.
The leader does not need to be the smartest Ė or the fastest, or best looking. It could be anyone, but since itís you standing up to be the unofficial leader, realize that others in the group may not agree. Simply proclaiming that you are in charge will cause more harm than good. Subtly is your best friend in the beginning of the transition from mob to team. Often, a leader can be created in the otherís eyes by simply being the first one to say, ďOk, so what do we do first?Ē
Crawl Then Run
The first hurdle for an unofficial leader is to get the group talking. What are their ideas? What do they think is the best course to take? Of course if everyone agrees on one direction, then this stage is done, but that rarely happens. Most often there will be two different schools of thought. The leader should not take sides, but encourage discussion of opposing viewpoints and plans. Stay above the arguments to mediate and stimulate the flow of ideas. Soon, one course will become clear, or at least more feasible than the other. When this happens, you may be surprised to see everyone looking at you to give the final judgment on what to do. Already, you have become the lead person to go to in their subconscious minds.
An important step for a leader is to recognize all the various tasks that need to be done to accomplish the goal. Who is best at what? Who would be most effective where? Hopefully you will already know, but most of the time you will need to find out. So ask what they would be best at within the available tasks to accomplish? Youíll get honest answers, but sometimes the answer is not what they are best at, but what parts of the work they would rather do. If they are the only one to volunteer for a certain task, let them have it. If two or more chime in, then prompt them to discuss among themselves who would be better suited. If they figure it out, great, but usually they will look to you to make the final decision again. Pay attention to their arguments and pick the best one for the job.
Not an Island
Realize that you donít have to come up with a plan or best course of action all by yourself. You just have to pick the direction and get your people there. Recognize the best plan, even if it isnít your own. Pay attention to complaints, and problems, but make sure to spot your own flaws as well. For the benefit of the team, volunteer for the job you are best suited for, even if it is one you donít want to do. Remember that it is not about you being a leader, but your team accomplishing their goal and you are but one part of that team.
Since you have no official power, there is nothing to back you up. You canít hire, fire, or discipline anyone, so why should they listen to you? Remember, you will earn your leader position by what you do, not who you are. Since being a leader is not about ordering people around, you will spend most of your time suggesting the best possible course, or coaxing the others in the right direction. Your best course is to get your people to do what they need to do without them realizing youíve done anything.
A group with clearly defined capabilities to match all the tasks at hand with an embraced purpose and definitive goal is ideal. That almost never happens in the real world unfortunately, but then if it did, the real world wouldnít need leaders. Once your team is all facing the same way, you will probably find that some need to be moving faster than the others. An unofficial timeline, with specific deadlines is a nice subtle way to show where each person is at and where they should be. A quiet, private, chat with the problem group member might help as well, but make sure your persona is that of a fellow group member worried about the project and their own part in it, NOT as the unofficial leader. Group cheers and celebrations when one person or another accomplishes their part will help get the lagging member moving. Remember, ďproblems in private, praise in public.Ē
Following Your Lead
Nothing gets a bunch of people moving faster than someone heading off in the right direction. Ideally, the team moves forward together, but thereís almost always a winding up period. Set the example by attacking your part with enthusiasm, professionalism, and vigor. If they see you working hard, helping others, and generally doing everything you can to get the team to its goal, then they will follow suit. They will notice if you are cheerfully doing a job they know you donít want to do. They will notice you listening to other team members, taking advice, and following directions. It will motivate them to do their part for the team and add to your role as unofficial leader.
The Good Follower
There is an ancient saying: ďA good leader is a good follower.Ē This would be a simple paradox if not for the fact that most aspects of a leader involve following others. The leader will follow the best path for the team to take. The leader will follow the advice and direction of those in the team if they are better than the leaderís own. The leader must follow the leaderís own examples. If you look closely at the tips above, youíll notice that each one requires the participation of the others in the team. A leader cannot lead without people to follow, but a leader canít move forward without following the team.
Leading people is a privilege and an honor; both not to be abused. Being a leader makes you special, but you are not special because you are a leader. A leader is just a part of a team that together is working towards a goal. Accomplishing the goalÖ thatís the whole point to being a leader. It is not about you, your status, recognition, or the fancy title. Itís about making things happen. But, if you make things happen, then your status will rise, you will gain recognition, and, yes, get that fancy title. Always remember though, you canít do it alone.
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