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Is it possible to influence groups and teams when you are not their de facto leader?
Absolutely. But it’s a different process than leading from within. Here’s a 5-step framework to follow:
Understand the cultural and political dynamics
Each team has a unique way of communicating — and of course, a unique mix of VOPS (Visionary-Operator-Processor-Synergist) styles. If you don’t take the time to understand the dynamics that drive this year’s interactions, you run the risk of coming across as an opinionated, narcissistic jerk, rather than the helpful leader-contributor you’re aspiring to be.
You can look for signs that leading from within will be well-received such as:
- Other people doing it and being welcomed for doing so
- A formal leader openly and non-defensively asking for another team member’s input
- A history of bottom-up ideas being accepted and implemented
If you notice meetings mostly being consulted by the leader (with little or no dialogue), information-heavy meetings that include little time for brainstorming, and/or the passive-aggressive pursuit of hidden agendas by individuals high on the totem pole…
…you may want to hold off on speaking up.
Know your own style
Leading from within is a delicate process (I refer you back to Step 1). Your colleagues will — obviously and rightly — reject any contribution you make that appears to be solely for the purpose of interjecting yourself into the conversation.
So, in order to lead from within, you must:
- Have a meaningful contribution to make
- Make the contribution in a natural, unforced manner that flows seamlessly with the ongoing discussion the team is having (and comes from a place of authority within you)
This “place of authority” comes from your natural leadership style, by the way.
Match the issue under consideration to your style
When you know your leadership style, you can focus specifically on those parts of the discussion to which you can speak most authoritatively. You’ll probably identify these discussion areas intuitively and will already have experienced a heightening of interest and a greater desire to contribute when they come up in discussion. (And if you’d like to know more, you may order a FREE copy of DO/LEAD by Les McKeown, as long as supplies last!)
Watch for vacuums, blockages and on- and off-ramps
Once you’ve identified your natural leadership style and learned to recognise when a problem or issue is ideally matched to that style, what next? Do you just step up to the (metaphorical) microphone and take over the proceedings?
You probably already know that the answer is “almost certainly NO.” This is an opportunity to lead from within — not to alienate all of your colleagues by hijacking a discussion or muscling in on a project.
To find the real opportunities, look for one of these:
- Vacuums: dead spaces that must be filled for the enterprise to advance
- Blockages: when something is preventing the team from making progress
- On- and off-ramps: chances to take what you and your team are working on, link it to another opportunity, and create something that is more valuable in the process
Finally, when you’ve assessed the political and cultural climate and determined that is it OK for you to lead from within, and followed Steps 1-4, you can take action.
But focus on making a contribution. Propounding, demanding, insisting, nagging — none of this will help win over your colleagues, which, in the final analysis, is the only way you can actually lead from within. If you check the dictionary definition of “contribute,” you’ll see that it means to give something, in order to achieve something else.
So, in conclusion:
- Work on your attitude of contribution.
- Don’t go looking for it to happen — wait for people to come to you for help.
- Don’t overstay your welcome — make the most effective contribution you can, check that there’s nothing else pressing you can help the team with, then retire graciously.