“If only I could be in charge for a day.”
“If I was running this place things would be different.”
Most of us have heard, thought or said something like that in our career. It’s a good thing to want to lead and make a valuable contribution to the success of our organization. The idea of being a leader when stuck far down the organizational chart may seem like a pipe dream to many. But, the fact is you SHOULD be a leader wherever you are – even if you are stuck working for a bad leader.
John Maxwell’s book The 360° Leader is a must read for anyone who wants to learn to lead more effectively whether you are in the corner office, on the top floor or the cubicle next to the coffee pot (a location that can have its advantages).
Maxwell says that 99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top, but FROM THE MIDDLE of an organization. The key to developing leadership skills at that level is to learn to develop different leadership skills in three directions. Maxwell categorizes them as: leading up, leading across and leading down.
Leading up involves the ability to influence your leader. How will you add value to your CEO or direct supervisor? Perhaps the most important way to achieve leadership influence is to lead yourself first. What kind of example do you set with your work ethic and integrity? How do you manage your priorities, time and energy?
Help your leader succeed by helping him/her with the heavy lifting. Do work others won’t. Show you are a team player. Express gratitude for being part of the team. I believe the most important attribute you can have in this area is when you find a problem – provide a solution.
When leading up you should invest in relational chemistry. This is NOT about kissing up. It IS about understanding your leader’s priorities and vision. Share his/her enthusiasm. Understand your leader’s personality and interests. Maxwell says when you take time to invest in relational chemistry, you will earn your leader’s trust.
Leading Across is often a challenge because many people try to take shortcuts rather than recognizing that leading peers is a process that takes time. However, learning to lead across your organization will not only greatly enhance you leadership skills, but will increase your stature in the organization and your ability to get things done.
Take interest in people. Look for value in every person. Be a friend. LISTEN to people and what’s going on in their lives, professionally and personally. Put competition in its proper place. It’s natural to want to compete. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, there needs to be a balance between competing and completing others.
Avoid office politics. Stay away from petty arguments. Avoid turf struggles. Refuse to be involved in gossip. Don’t pretend you are perfect. Be willing to admit your faults. Ask for advice. Be open to learning from others. Put away pride and pretense.
In many respects, leading down boils down to leading direct reports the way you want to be led. Maxwell suggests several techniques:
Walk slowly through the halls. This is my personal favorite. We’re all busy. However, there comes a time when leaders need to slow down and just be present among your people. It shows you care, are willing to listen and offers a great opportunity to provide feedback on a more frequent basis.
See everyone as a “10.” The more we are around people, the more aware we become of their flaws. It is easy to emphasize the downside and overlook some of the positives, which are equally easy to take for granted.
Develop each team member. It is important for leaders to look at employee development as a long-term process. Look at everyone differently. Design individual employee development strategies that address each person’s uniqueness. Discover their desires and dreams.
Leadership is skill that can be learned, refined and built upon as a result of good education and experience.
Good leadership is also a mindset. And it starts right where you are!
Ross Woodstock is a certified coach at Kolt Communications, Inc. He specializes in executive coaching and leadership development. He is also a communications strategist working with clients on their marketing, public relations and advertising programs.