Accelerate Your Leadership Skills!
If you want to accelerate your leadership skills, the best thing you can do is jump in and start leading an informal that you don’t have any authority over. Find a project in your workplace that has been needing to get done for a while and take charge of it. Recruit and lead a team of your peers using these tips and you’ll be amazed at how fast you’ll see your leadership skills grow.

Accelerate Your Leadership Skills!

It is inevitable that one day our boss will say to us, “I need to you run this project/committee/event/etc. but I need you to do it in addition to all the other things you’re doing and I can’t assign anyone to you to help and the budget is really limited (or non-existent). I know you’ll be able to figure it out!” When I was in the Air Force these things fell into a category we called “Additional Duties”. If it sounds like a lot of effort and stress, you’re right, it can be. But these kind of additional duties can be a tremendous opportunity to accelerate your leadership skills, especially your soft skills like communication and negotiation.

Negotiation – The Key to Accelerate Your Leadership Skills

As you’re recruiting your team to be part of your additional duty project, making contracts with your peers is the key to getting a project like this off the ground and moving forward. Since you don’t have any actual authority over anyone on your team, being really clear about the role you want each of your peers to take on is essential to successfully negotiating their participation. Discussing with them the responsibilities you expect them to take on and getting their agreement to that role is essential. Keep in mind that they have other priorities and commitments and may not be able to commit fully to everything you’d like them to. If their participation is important to you, you may have to accept that they can only commit to certain key areas and you may have to get some additional help to handle others. Make it clear that you will be holding them accountable to the contracts they’ve agreed to absolutely necessary. You’ll have to continue to negotiate throughout your project when it comes to deadlines, product quality and even how you’ll know you met your objectives.

Goal Setting

Speaking of objectives, leading an informal team made up of your peers will really help you up your game on goal setting. In order to successfully negotiate with others what their role will be, you’ll have to make a really solid case for why they should join you in this endeavor. This forces you to come up with goals that are clear, measurable and achievable. Having your goals, as well as how you’ll know you’ve met those goals, very explicitly defined will make it much easier for others to understand the scope of the effort you’re asking them to put in and will make it easier for them to agree.

Perception

One of the often overlooked skills in leadership development is effective perception of moods and behaviors. Reading people’s tone, body language and expressions is just as critical as understanding what they are saying verbally (sometimes even more so). To successfully lead in a peer leadership situation we have to learn to open up our perception and use all of our senses to understand what is going on below the surface in our teammates. Being able to read these kind of indicators can tell us if one of our teammates is having trouble meeting their responsibilities, maybe having a personal problem that could impact their performance, or even starting to think that maybe the effort is no longer worthwhile. Most people won’t come out and openly state these kinds of issues, so in order to solve them, we need to develop our perception skills to be able to identify problems before they blow up.

Communication

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” We’ve all been told that before (My mom was big on this one when I was a teenager). Just as it’s important to develop our perception, when we lead an informal team we need to be a little more concerned with how our words and actions are received. There are times to be direct and there are times when we have to take a softer approach in our communications. Keep in mind that negotiation is a key aspect of peer leadership and recognize when it might be necessary to create buy-in to an idea rather than directing it as the leader. We want to avoid alienating the rest of our team with poor or inappropriate communication so that we can keep moving forward to achieve our goals.

These are all skills that we can read about, study and take workshops to develop, but there’s no substitute for actual, practical experience. If you want to accelerate your leadership skills, the best thing you can do is jump in and start leading an informal team that you don’t have any authority over. Find a project in your workplace that has been needing to get done for a while and take charge of it. Recruit and lead a team of your peers using these tips and you’ll be amazed at how fast you’ll see your leadership skills grow.

Tell us in the comments other skills you’ve been able to grow though peer and informal leadership.

Photo Credit: John Chapman (Pyrope) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The challenges that come with exercising informal and peer leadership can accelerate the development of your leadership skills much faster than when you have all the resources you need at your disposal. Applying Informal & Peer Leadership They key to successfully exercising informal and peer leadership techniques to accomplishing your mission is to understand the difference between accountability, responsibility and authority. In the video, Jason provides working definitions of all three concepts and then provides 5 steps you can start applying today to build your informal team and lead them to a successful result.

Informal and Peer Leadership – 5 Tips to Completing Your Impossible Task

One of the most frustrating situations that a young leader can face is when they’ve been assigned to complete some kind of project or task but haven’t been officially assigned any people or resources to accomplish it. The assignment usually comes with very little guidance from higher up and some encouraging word to them that “You’ll figure it out!”. While this sounds like a horrible situation to be in, young leaders can view these types of situations as opportunities to grow their leadership skills in a different way. The challenges that come with exercising informal and peer leadership can accelerate the development of your leadership skills much faster than when you have all the resources you need at your disposal.

Applying Informal and Peer Leadership

They key to successfully exercising informal and peer leadership techniques to accomplishing your mission is to understand the difference between accountability, responsibility and authority. In the video, Jason provides working definitions of all three concepts and then provides 5 steps you can start applying  today to build your informal team and lead them to a successful result. Applying these 5 steps when building your team will help you understand priorities, clarify your expectations and improve communication between you and the members of your team while still managing time and resources wisely:

  1. Get to know the key players in your organization
  2. Build a strategy
  3. Get buy-in from others
  4. Be ready to negotiate and compromise
  5. Communicate frequently and appropriately

Try applying these 5 steps when building your team as you tackle your next project!

If we find our opportunities to lead limited in our workplace, there are other places we can go to practice and develop our leadership skills. Our communities are in need of leadership at all levels in a variety of organizations.

Finding Opportunities to Lead in Our Communities

One universal truth that I have found about leaders is that once we have committed ourselves to the study and discipline of leadership, we are always looking for more opportunities to lead and make a difference. We start to develop a talent for seeing ways to improve products, services or experiences in ways that make our customers, co-workers and even our own lives better. We become focused on improving ourselves and our environments but we can often run into roadblocks when looking for leadership opportunities in the workplace. Our employers have set certain priorities for the organization (rightly so) and often we don’t get opportunities to develop our leadership skills as quickly as we would like. In the best cases, employers who believe in developing the leadership abilities of their employees are trying to develop all of their people, so we have to share the leadership opportunities with others and in many cases compete to lead the best projects. In the worst cases, employers just don’t care about developing leadership on their teams and there are few opportunities. Just as it is important to be good leaders we need to be good followers and trust the judgment and priorities of the leaders above us. Although we may feel underutilized as leaders in our workplaces, there is a solution to developing your leadership skills outside of work.

Seeking Other Opportunities to Lead

If we find our opportunities to lead limited in our workplace, there are other places we can go to practice and develop our leadership skills. Our communities are in need of leadership at all levels in a variety of organizations. There are any number of groups such as schools, churches, business organizations, youth groups or even sports or recreational groups that are always looking for people to step up and take charge of projects they want to get done. Many of the groups in our communities are understaffed and while they may have a number of volunteers to participate in activities and projects, they are limited in how quickly they can accomplish their goals because they are in need of ambitious leaders to take charge of many of the projects and initiatives they want to accomplish in their community.

Getting Started with Community Leadership

Start out by looking for a community organization that is a good fit for you. Look around at several groups in your area and find a group that fits your interests and core values. The idea is to connect with other people who are making a difference in the community in a way that resonates with you. Much like starting a business or making your workplace better, think or a problem that you’d like to see solved in your community and find a group that works on solving that problem. If you don’t consider the organizational goals and values before you join, you may find yourself struggling to lead a project you don’t believe in which can leave you as frustrated as you are at your workplace. You may have to pay your dues for a little while in your new community organization, again followership is important, but showing initiative and taking on a project that the group needs to have done will give you some valuable experience in leading others.

You’ll often have to lead people who are committing their extra time and they may not be able to contribute as much time as they would like to. You’ll have to be very organized and have a plan to recruit enough people to your project to make sure you can meet your goals. You may even have to be responsible for raising money and managing other financial resources. One of the things that you will find if you are leading a community or volunteer group is that you will be working with people who come with varying levels of skill and ability. This will really force you to think about your philosophy and methods for training and developing others to be able to perform their roles in the organization and how much supervision you really want to have to give them on a regular basis. Also, because many people in community groups are volunteers you won’t have any direct authority over them to influence their contributions. You’ll have to get very good at your soft skills like communication, empathy, persuasion and negotiation to bring all of these volunteers together to achieve your goals.

Finally, even if you are getting all of the leadership opportunities that you want in your workplace, consider taking on a leadership role in a community organization. Giving back to our community helps solves the problems that our friends and neighbors face, makes our communities more livable and warmer and better places. It also makes us feel better about ourselves and give us some satisfaction from bringing some good into the world.

Tell us in the comments where you seek your additional opportunities to lead.

 

Photo Credit: By Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1352630) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Embracing alternate perspectives can shed new light on a problem and lead to more effective solutions

Alternate Perspectives: Why and How to Embrace Them!

I bet you know this story; you’ve probably lived through it. We had pulled together a team from across several departments build a strategic plan for a critical aspect of our whole organization. It was the kind unavoidable committee work that we’ve all had to participate in when the stakes are high and multiple departments are essential to a successful outcome.

Adding tension to the discussion is that most of these departments had been allowed to continue their own efforts in this area without any strong strategic guidance (illustrating the need for a strategic plan). The modeling & simulation guys built models based on their own perception of the systems and environment. The purchasers developed their own set of requirements and objectives and the operators had expectations of system performance that didn’t match. As the long-range planner, I was trying to develop a way to determine how effective our current capabilities were and determine if we needed new components to fill any performance gaps.

Compounding this was that most of the representatives on this team had been given marching orders from their department heads about what their position would be. None of the departments wanted to back off of their own efforts and expected the other departments to adjust around them. After the first morning session resulted in a series of conversational dead ends repeated in a circular fashion, it was clear we needed a new approach.

Considering Alternate Perspectives Can Break the Gridlock

Ultimately the key to our success was to take time to get the team members to listen to and appreciate the perspectives of the other departments. Initially, our individual team members looked at the whole problem solely through the perspective of their own department’s desired outcome. By giving each department a chance to present their perspective of the problem we provided the other departments insight into all of the conflicting desired outcomes. Now educated on multiple perspectives, we were able to look out for each other and start to advocate for solutions that achieved as many desired outcomes for as many stakeholders as possible. Once the other perspectives were understood and embraced we were actually able to come up with a plan that far exceeded any of our expectations when we started.

How to Embrace Alternate Perspectives

Ideally, everyone would come to the table prepared to understand alternate perspectives, but it’s a skill that takes work and is one that easily slips away if we don’t put effort into it. The best way to prepare ourselves to view alternate perspectives when we need to is to continually expose ourselves to them when we don’t need to. Here are some things we can all do to build that muscle:

  • Expand your reading list – Read all kinds of books, not just books in your field. A lot of people feel like they’re not really working or advancing if they’re not reading about something in their field. Read something from a professional field other than your own. Occasionally, take time to read fiction, force yourself to engage your imagination; visualize the action and emotions written on the page. One of my goals for 2015 is re-visiting some of the classics like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Hemingway.
  • Mix it up with your news sources – If you like the NY Times, check out Fox News now and then. If you like the Economist, check out Rolling Stone. You may not agree with their positions, but at least you’ve taken the time to hear them.
  • Engage with people in a different department or outside of your normal social circle – Talking, and especially listening, to others can do wonders for expanding your perspective on issues. Taking the time to discuss with people their wants and needs, as well as what they’re doing to achieve success can open your eyes to different approaches to achieving better outcomes for everyone.

Next time you find yourself on a team that is gridlocked and can’t achieve any outcomes, try facilitating discussion among the members to see if an alternate perspective might frame the issue in a different way. Once they see the issue though another’s eyes, it may be easier for them to relax their position if it means a win-win situation for the group!

Let us know how it works out for you! What do you do to foster alternate perspectives on your team?

Photo Credit: Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Floor Is Lava!

One of the most interesting and amusing experiences I had at DEFCON was while we were waiting in line to register and pay our conference fee. If you’re not familiar with DEFCON, there’s no pre-registration or credit card payments accepted so everyone waits in line and pay cash to register for the conference. The line can be long at times, but it’s a great way to meet new people and see some interesting things while you wait.

The staff at DEFCON do a pretty excellent job keeping everyone moving smoothly and staying in line. I was really intrigued by the difference in styles used to “herd the cats”. In one case we had reached an area where there was a gap in the line that had to be maintained to allow hotel staff to be able to move freely without interference. The young staff member who was responsible for maintaining this open lane took a really interesting approach to his task that I felt was well tailored to the audience at DEFCON. If you’ve never been to a hacker convention like DEFCON, it’s important to know that the attendees aren’t really big on “rules” and don’t usually find “because I said so” a compelling argument for why they should cooperate.

So this young man, who was clearly very effective at reading the crowd, would simply tell each new group as they made their way to this gap in the line, “Hey guys…this area here…the tile…that’s all lava…the floor is lava.” Every single person I saw come through that area of the line, smiled and laughed and was 100% cooperative with the young man’s request. He understood (whether consciously or subconsciously) that a large majority of the crowd here was attending this event on their leisure time, looking to have a fun, positive experience and wanted a minimum of stress as they waited in the hours-long line. This young man was able to effectively lead literally thousands of people to his objective of keeping an area of the floor clear by putting forth a fun, playful attitude with a group that was receptive to that attitude.

Contrast this with another staff member further down the line with a similar task. This individual’s approach was to scream and shout about the fire marshal shutting the event down if the area wasn’t clear. This approach was met by the group waiting in line with much grumbling and a good deal of encroachment into the area that they were trying to keep clear. I don’t want to make light of the fire code in Las Vegas (they are very strict for good reason) or the Fire Marshal, but it was clear that the approach used in this case to keep the area clear was having the opposite effect. In fact, the staff was constantly struggling to keep this area clear despite the repeated warnings.

It may sound oversimplified, but there are two lessons here:

  1. Know your audience. Attempt to communicate with them in a way that will achieve your objective.
  2. If your initial approach isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change tactics. See what’s working elsewhere and if you can adapt it to work for you.

It’s up to you as a leader to decide what approach you’ll use to communicate with those you’re trying to lead. What worked in the past may not be effective with a different audience, especially one that you have no actual authority over. Your relationship with the team as well as the situation are important factors to consider as you think about the approach you’ll use to meet your next objective!

Discussion: What indicators do you use to read your audience or the climate of your team as individuals and as a group? In what ways do you tailor your messages and actions to motivate your team? Are your methods different at different times, such as time-critical or high-risk situations?

Photo Credit: “Pahoehoe toe” by Hawaii Volcano Observatory (DAS) – http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/archive/2003/May/main.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg

Who’s in Charge Here?

By CEJISS (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By CEJISS (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all been there, You’ve either volunteered (or been volunteered) to work on a project with a team of folks from across the organization, or the boss has had enough of a particular issue and told you all to go “work it out.” The last time you were involved in one of these projects everyone made small talk with each other around the table until crunch time, then it was mayhem.

Often we find ourselves in a position where we have to accomplish a goal with a group of individuals who have been pulled together informally, but we have not been given authority over the people or resources we need to be successful. Or, we may find ourselves as part of a “committee” where no leader has been designated. Despite a lack of clear lines of authority, the boss expects success. Sounds painful, right? Well, it can be, or it can be an excellent opportunity to step up and exercise some informal leadership skills.

Taking on an informal or peer leadership role can be a great way to develop some of the more subtle skills that great leaders have. Your whole approach to leading a team will change when you don’t have “Because I said so” to fall back on.

Intrigued? Tell me more, you say? You’ve decided you’re going to take charge at the next meeting instead of letting everyone stare blankly at each other? Good for you! Here are some things you can do to help your ragtag team be successful.

  • Keep the focus on the end state your team needs to achieve.
  • Find out what interest your teammates have in being on the team. How did they get on the team? Are they representing a functional area? How important is the team’s success to them as individuals?
  • Focus on solutions, not positions or policies.
  • Brainstorm potential solutions. Allow everyone’s voice to be heard.
  • Find a balance between meeting and doing the work. Overly frequent status meetings put the focus on meeting and keeping track of status to the detriment of individuals performing their role.
  • Build trust. I know this is easier said than done, but this is where letting people be heard and focusing on solutions can help. Also, give credit and recognition where it is due.
  • Build consensus and accept compromise.  It may not turn our exactly according to your vision, but if it meets the goal it may be good enough.

So now you’re ready to step up and take charge the next time you see an opportunity! The question is, will you?

How have you approached being an informal or peer leader in the past? What were successful approaches? Any unsuccessful experiences?