Just because you are not the manager of the department, project manager on a project or team leader on a team doesn’t mean you can’t be the leader. Leadership isn’t about your title or label, it is about what you do in the workplace.
If you want to lead, here are five steps to get you there.
Basics matter. If you can’t deliver your work on time or do quality work, there is no way for you to lead. Leading is about doing and leadership by example is one way to show leadership.
Doing your work on time also means your team can rely on you to do your part — they don’t have to cover for your failings. Doing your work is the baseline for leadership. If you don’t do the work, you won’t get to lead.
This includes group meetings, team meetings, meetings with your manager and meetings with your individual team members. If it’s scheduled, be prepared.
Being prepared means having your part done for what you are to present. It means having thought through the agenda so you can offer constructive input to the issues or solutions being proposed. It means having data to back up your position so that it isn’t just your opinion about what is on the table.
Most people walk into all sorts of meetings, including the meeting leaders, not ready for prime time. Being prepared gives you significant influence on the outcome because you can offer solutions, people will grab onto and modify those solutions and work will get done.
If an issue is coming to a decision, it is critical that you know everyone’s position on the issue. Knowing the position before the decision is made helps you understand where the power is for the decision and where the objections are for the issue.
This means you need to talk with each person about where they stand on the decision in question and ask pertinent questions about their position. This includes “what if” questions like “If we did it your way and then added on these two things, what would you think of that?” By asking questions, you can tell where there is room for a better solution overall — or where the objections will kill a decision.
By knowing the positions, you can provide a synthesized solution that matches the majority while accommodating those with objections. Or you can take where people are at and work out a new solution that is better than what is proposed, building on what is said in the meeting.
Or you can be in a position to just be quiet while two sides blow up the whole thing and you can be in a position to help put it back together in a different way that helps everyone.
But if you don’t know everyone’s position on an issue, you can’t get into a position to lead.
How often have you gone into a project meeting and no one has an agenda for the meeting? My rule is this: he who has the agenda gets 80% of what they want out of a meeting.
So walking into every meeting with an agenda — what needs to be accomplished from the meeting and here is your solution — should be part of every meeting preparation. Plus, if you ask about the agenda before the decision meeting is held, you can offer constructive criticism about the agenda — what to include, what to add, and what to take out.
You won’t get everything you want — but you’ll get most of it because you offered an agenda and a way for people to constructively handle their time.
Behind the scenes, offering constructive suggestions about the project to the decision-maker and influencers on the project draws you closer to a having a place at the decision table. The reason is simple: most of your coworkers haven’t thought through the issues well enough to know the constructive solutions to problems. Managers and leaders want solutions to problems.
Perhaps your entire suggestion won’t be the final answer; that’s OK. But if your suggestion starts the dialogue to get to a final solution, and you continue to add constructive suggestions along the way, you will be seen as a thought leader on the subject and getting results.
Most of your coworkers sit back and wait for whoever has the title of “leader” to make a decision. They think leaders do that without any input. They don’t do the work to figure out the best way of accomplishing the project’s goals. They simply wait to be told what to do for their part of the project and then whine about the work that needs doing.
Cubicle Warriors don’t shy away from the work and use their business judgment to get the project to a successful conclusion. Along the way, they make the project better because they engage with the work by getting ready, preparing, and working behind the scenes to get the best solution for the business.
Are you ready to be the de facto leader on your next project?
Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.