Leadership … Taking the lead when you need to

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My daughter (working in an office job now) posed the following question on Facebook last night. “How did it come to be that stereotypical group dynamics acknowledge the loudest, most social and conversationally dominating person in the room as a leader?”  One of the responses it elicited was “Dunno, but it works for me” from a mutual friend of ours and knowing both her job (sales) and personality, I expect it does and works very well.

However the real question is when it is your JOB to lead, how do you get the leadership position without being the most social and dominating person in the room?

The first thing to remember is that in groups people naturally expect leaders to emerge. I won’t bore you with lots of “pack instinct” or other psychoanalytical theories, but they do.  So if leadership isn’t obvious, the pack gravitates to the next best thing, someone they think can be leader, normally the “loudest, most social and conversationally dominating person in the room”.

If you are charged with leading a team, recognize that the initial team meeting starts with a leadership vacuum and you need to fill it. There are 3 ways to do so:

  • example
  • position
  • permission

If you lead by example the following are the characteristics:

  • you ask more questions than you take
  • you set the agenda, the objectives, the goals or facilitate getting to them
  • you assign tasks and deliverables
  • you check status
  • you hold people accountable to what they agreed to
  • you are one that makes sure the meeting is inclusive (see my blog post series on facilitation )
  • you in effect imply that you are leader and simply do the tasks associated with it

If you lead by position then the following are the characteristics:

  • your role has been formally communicated by someone senior enough to fire and/or positively/negatively impact every participant in the room
  • they have communicated their objectives and stated that you are responsible to see that the team achieves them
  • they have communicated to the team that they expect their support of you and your success is the team’s mutual success.

(works  in some places in the world better than others….)

If you lead by permission then the following are the characteristics:

  • you have asked for and been granted by the team the role of leader
  • because they have mutually agreed, there won’t be any power-struggles

These are really the starting positions for leadership, the ending position is dependent on what you do once you have been granted the position. Your only a leader as long as someone is following. Otherwise, you’re just a person going for a walk.

As consultants we are almost never in a place where we can use position to gain a leadership role. Permission, I have found is to be the fastest and most enduring mechanism for this, and it can be this simple…

“Hi. I am Ian from …. This team has been pulled together to …(list here). I have experience in …(list here). I would like to recommend to you that I lead this team because …(list here). In that role I would do the following for the team …. Are you okay with that … (Round table person by person acknowledgment)”

Most of the time this approach works for me, not always.

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