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.
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.
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.
“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