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How to lead when you’re not the boss

In flatter hierarchies, people may be leading cross-departmental project teams at certain times, though their organizational structure gives them no formal authority.

Over on Harvard Management Essentials, Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay summarizes the five steps to leading when you’re not the boss, taken from the book that was called Lateral Leadership: getting things done when you’re not the boss, but in its latest edition is called Getting It Done: How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge.

One may seem obvious. Two and Three seem the ‘killer apps’ in this list, especially Three (conduct mini-reviews and adapt as you go), which I think is the most powerful advice in here. Five (feedback) is hard to do in the way described if the people you are giving feedback to are technically ‘above’ you in terms of seniority.

1. Establish goals
People accomplish the most when they have a clear set of objectives. It follows that any group’s first order of business is to write down exactly what it hopes to achieve. The person who asks the question “Can we start by clarifying our goals here?”–and who then assumes the lead in discussing and drafting those goals–is automatically taking a leadership role, whatever his or her position.

2. Think systematically
Observe your next meeting: people typically plunge right into the topic at hand and start arguing over what to do. Effective leaders, by contrast, learn to think systematically–that is, they gather and lay out the necessary data, analyze the causes of the situation, and propose actions based on this analysis. In a group, leaders help keep participants focused by asking appropriate questions. Do we have the information we need to analyze this situation? Can we focus on figuring out the causes of the problem we’re trying to solve?

3. Learn from experience–while it’s happening
Teams often plow ahead on a project, then conduct a review at the end to figure out what they learned. But it’s more effective for teams (or individuals) to learn as they go along. Anyone who prompts the group to engage in regular minireviews and learn from them is playing a de facto leadership role.

4. Engage others
Suggest writing down a list of chores and matching them up with individuals or subgroups. If no one wants a particular task, brainstorm ways to make that task more interesting or challenging. Help draw out the group’s quieter members so that everyone feels a part of the overall project.

5. Provide feedback
If you’re not the boss, what kind of feedback can you provide? One thing that’s always valued is simple appreciation–“I thought you did a great job in there.” Sometimes, too, you’ll be in a position to help people improve their performance through coaching….Offer thoughtful suggestions for improvement, being careful to explain the observation and reasoning that lie behind them.

Click here for the full post on Harvard Management Essentials

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