Sunday, July 15, 2007

Leadership without authority

If you are working for a 'service' company, don't be surprised if you are expected to lead a small team in the first few years of your career. If you have inherited some leadership skills during your college days, it would be a boon. If not, its high time you start to focus on it.

Even before you were given the title of a 'Team Lead/Manager', you would be asked to play the 'role' of a 'Team Lead/Manager' for a short time (few months or so). That is the most challenging period for several folks. You won't have any people reporting to you. But you'll be asked to manage their deliverables. This is were you have to practice 'Leadership without authority'. You may run into a variety of challenges - based on the company, product, work culture, seniority level of your team, team member's attitude, your relationship with the team members, your skills etc., So, how do you handle those challenges? How can you be a perfect leader? I've given some tips below.

1) Role is not Title - People have complained to me in the past saying that they weren't given the title, but only the role to play. They've to be mindful about that. You were just given the 'role' & not the 'title'. So, don't start to boss around.

2) People have to accept you as a leader. You should demonstrate that you are a 'Go TO' person for problems. You don't have to solve all their problems. But, you should be in a position to suggest/guide them towards solution. At times, it is a matter of just redirecting them to the right people.

3) Listen to people's issues. You have to be a good listener.

4) Take actions - don't wait for things to escalate. You shouldn't lend a deaf year to people's concerns. Just let them know that you are working on it. People like to know the action you're taking against their requests/concerns. So, keep them posted.

5) Be organised & disciplined. These are some good traits of a good leader/manager. People should feel that you are good at tracking items/activities to completion. You should also provide a status update to folks, regularly.

6) If there are 'people issues' between your team members - try to understand the concerns of the parties. Do not take a 'one-sided' approach. Do what is good for the product/project/company. That way, it is easier to make an 'unbiased' decision.

7) Treat all your team members as 'equal'. You may have some buddies within the team. Do not share 'confidential' information even with your buddies.

8) Undergo leadership trainings & read books related to team building, leadership etc., You have to continuously 'sharpen the saw'.

9) Be pro-active & not re-active. Don't always work in fire-fighting mode. Always, think ahead & anticipate things. Be prepared.

10) Maintain good 'rapport' with all your team members. Try to interact with all of them to the extent possible. Don't always interact with them only about 'official' things. Check with them how they enjoyed their weekend. Go out with them for coffee/tea or for lunch. Have conversations & discuss about things other than work. If possible, plan for team building activities with your team.

11) Don't micro-manage people. Folks like to have freedom. At the same time, don't let them loose. Be assertive 'instead' of being 'authoritative' when communicating deadlines, expectations etc.,

12) Don't be submissive. I've seen some folks falling on the feet of their team members to get things done. This is not good. You need to demonstrate that you are a 'capable' leader.

13) Communication is key. "What", "How" & "Where" you communicate is very important. If you think you need to improve your communication skills, join Toastmasters.

14) Impress your 'boss' & your 'team members'. Don't just try to impress your boss, alone. At the end of the day, your team members are also the decision makers. They should feel comfortable working for you.

15) You may even realize that 'leading/managing a team' is not the right job for you. If so, don't pretend that you can do the role. Go and talk to your boss. See if he/she can help you in any ways. Contact other peers who have done similar roles in the past. Get guidance from them.

The best example that I can give for 'Leadership without authority' is Gandhi's efforts towards India's independence. He did not have the title, but he had the power. He was able to motivate folks to get things done towards a common cause. Your task as a leader is not very different from what Gandhi did.

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