Acting Like a Leader (Even If You Aren’t on the Org Chart)
In the last lesson, I discussed the traits that are embraced by good leaders. In addition to these traits, there are common behaviors that are shared amongst effective leaders. These involve how you:
• Deal with “truth.”
• Utilize good questioning techniques.
• Handle recognition.
Dealing with “Truth”
Truth is not as simple a subject as it might appear. Truth in an organization working in a frequently changing economy is fluid and can be interpreted multiple ways. In her fantastic book, Fierce Conversations, author Susan Scott points out, “No one, not even the CEO, owns the entire truth [in an organization], because no one can be in all places at all times. Every single person … owns a piece of the truth.”
Embracing this concept means understanding that you have “your truth” but that it’s different from “THE truth.” Applying this concept when you are discussing issues or a means of improvement is critical. Putting your truth on the table and encouraging others to put their truths too is a great leadership approach. You can then participate in a discussion to examine the “collected truths” to determine the best alternatives.
Good Questioning Techniques
How you ask questions can significantly influence how you are perceived. Be concise about the questions you ask, but try not to put others on the spot with your wording. One of my favorite question structures is to start a question with, “Help me understand …” This puts the burden on yourself, as a person trying to grasp a concept. This is better than saying something like, “You need to explain that to me,” which might lead someone to perceive it as a challenge, whether you meant it that way or not.
If you are addressing a problem and need to ask questions, it is important to ensure the question is concise and easily understood. The answer might be difficult, but the content of the question should be crystal clear. When possible, practice your difficult questions with your peers to make sure they are crisp before posing them to your management team.
Secondly, it’s a good leadership technique to do your homework so you can pose a multiple-choice question to your manager. For example, if you are dealing with many important tasks and need to confirm the priority of your work, I would not suggest going to your manager’s office and asking, “What do you want me to do first?” Rather, I would give your manager options, such as:
“I want to confirm the priority of the tasks I am working on; here are the feasible alternatives:
a. I can accomplish Task 1 by tomorrow, and 2 and 3 can be done next week.
b. I’ll finish Task 2 by Wednesday, give you an update on Task 1 on Friday, and finish 1 and 3 next week.
c. Task 3 can be done today, Task 1 on Friday, and Task 2 next week.”
This way, your manager has a more complete picture and can give you more informed guidance.
Receiving recognition is fantastic; it makes you feel good and it indicates you’ve made a contribution. It is important to recognize anyone, at any time, who might have helped you accomplish your task. Even something simple like showing you a good reference or a quick validation that you’re heading the right direction could mean the difference between you getting things done or struggling with your task. Recognize others when you accomplish things—preferably in advance of receiving recognition yourself—and you can be viewed as a caring leader people want to work with.
Tomorrow, I will discuss how to choose your leadership style without sacrificing your personality!
Till then, thank someone for how they’ve helped you!
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