Most of us are not the CEOs of our organization. We are somewhere in the middle. Yet we all have, every day, an opportunity to provide leadership from the middle. Leadership comes in several flavors. Here are some that I find valuable.
When you are in a meeting and everyone is looking at each other stuck on where to start or what to do, a leader is the one saying, “OK, let’s ______” and gets people to move. This is also known as “decisiveness”. Movement is a critical factor in starting a project. Good leaders help the team get off the starting blocks. It’s amazing how many projects get off to a slow start based on the lack of this kind of leadership. The opposite of this is “Analysis Paralysis” where decisions are avoided to gather more data forever. Being informed is good, but not forever. Sometimes, you need to decide.
Almost everything that could be done, could be done in a thousand ways. The decisions that get made are critical to success. A dictator may make all the decisions him/herself, but a leader helps bring everyone along the way so it feels like a team effort. Leadership on collaboration usually is the person helping guide the meeting in a positive direction. They ask for people’s opinions and use Aikido techniques to turn a negative influence into a positive one. They make sure that no one feels intimidated or ignored. Someone who felt ignored in that kind of meeting usually won’t feel as invested in the success of the team and therefore won’t contribute as much. Collaboration leaders help the team feel unified and motivated.
As people who have bosses (most of us) we have to take direction from higher up in the food chain. Leaders help interpret that direction. The higher up the origin of the direction came, the more abstract and directional it is. The message usually passes through multiple people along the way to the team. (Telephone game) The trick is to still do our jobs and make good decisions without violating the direction from above. Leaders help interpret the direction and reconcile it with the reality on the ground. Sometimes this is called “Management By Objective” or MBO. In this model, you need leaders who can help the team understand the general strategy and translate it into actionable steps.
Leadership by Example
In Animal Farm (sad book), Boxer the horse showed leadership by proudly proclaiming “I will just work harder.” Even though this was not a successful strategy for Boxer in the long run, it was still bold leadership. Boxer inspired his brethren to work hard and give it their all. Whether it’s working harder or smarter or even nicer, leaders demonstrate through their actions a way of working that makes other people want to emulate them.
Leadership is one of the most valuable assets a company can have/create/foster/leverage. Most companies struggle with how to make more of it. No one has a magic bullet to create leadership at all levels. You should think about these kinds of leadership modes that come from the middle and how you could adopt some of them. Even if it’s once in a while you should cultivate in yourself a pattern of providing these kinds of leadership.