Thursday, March 10, 2016

Early-Career Communication Part 3: Leading Without Authority

Kendell Brown
By  Kendell Brown, Associate Director of Graduate Career Services

Articulating a vision and getting people to work toward that vision is formidable for many. Motivating clients, peers and other key stakeholders can be particularly challenging for someone who doesn’t have a title that commands action. However, for you to be personally successful, that success has to come as part of a broader effort. I am going to highlight 4 characteristics that can help you lead despite having no specific authority to do so.

Speak confidently.

If you speak confidently and in a manner that underscores a belief in what you are saying, you are likely to get others to agree. Meaning people want to follow the lead of someone that appears knowledgeable and self-assured. 

It is necessary to note that sometimes people will undermine their own confidence by saying things like “I’m not sure, if you’ll agree” or “Is that in line with what you were thinking?” When you are rallying people and getting them to do what you want - refrain from using qualifying and confirmatory language, it will weaken you and your ideas. Instead focus on speaking with certainty and assurance.

Present a clear vision.

Another way to ensure that stakeholders listen to and respect your ideas is to present a clear vision.  The vision is the compass for your project and the keystone of your idea. 

What can you do to ensure colleagues will adhere to your vision? First, provide an end goal – it helps people get on board.  Think of the end goal as a destination. When everyone shares a common goal, or destination, they are likely going to also share an understanding of why a certain path is necessary. Consequently, when everyone knows the end goal they will begin to appreciate how their contributions will support that goal. 

Be flexible.

The third way to be a strong yet informal leader is to be flexible. While you may be the one with the great idea, you must admit that you don’t know everything. So while it is key to state your point of view, it is equally critical to be receptive to the opinions of others.  Listening to others is valuable because an outside idea may be just what is needed to make a good idea, a great one. Additionally, when you give people an opportunity to include their viewpoint in your plans, they are more likely to support the vision and goal you’ve laid out.

Be open to feedback.

Lastly, be open to feedback and solicit it regularly. Without feedback, you won’t know how your leadership is perceived by others and by extension whether it is effective. Therefore, take time to ask how things are going and check-in to see if people are still engaged. Getting feedback often, gives you time to course correct, if necessary. Furthermore, periodic feedback gives you a chance to know what’s working well and thus what you want to continue.

So while you may not have formal authority to get some things done, the strategies I’ve described are always available to you to informally and indirectly influence. 


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