Today’s Challenge is a weekly post in which I respond to a question submitted by a leader somewhere in the world. Today’s question is How do I lead if I’m not the senior leader?
Here’s the truth, very few of us are the senior leader. So the question is a good one! This is a daily challenge for 99.9% of leaders. In most organizations, there’s only one leader at the top and a very small percentage of “senior leaders.”
Over the last couple of years, I’ve written about several facets of this question. I’ll work not to repeat myself. However, I’ll include a few links throughout to connect you with some previous posts.
Here are six strategies that I believe can help any of us lead well from the middle:
Look for ways to create capacity. You may be in the middle because you were good at the bottom. The men and women who create personal capacity and organizational capacity are often those who are asked to lead at the next level.
Devote time to think about the future. The present often traps leaders in the middle. If you’re not careful, you’ll not be leading anything. You’ll just be managing the present. Do you have time on your calendar to think? If not, that’s not good. Leaders who don’t think can easily get stuck.
Don’t miss time with your peers. To be in the middle implies someone above and below you. It also suggests peers. Dee Hock, the father of the modern credit card, popularized the concept of the 360 degree leader. Invest time strategically with your peers.
Become a developer of people. Some leaders in the middle cannot increase their influence and their responsibility because of their approach to leadership. If everything revolves around you, get used to the middle. You’re probably not going to the top. The best leaders move beyond delegation to developer as a predominant style of leadership.
Look for opportunities to influence outside your assigned area. If you have aspirations for greater influence and opportunity, look for ways to impact the larger organization. You’re paid to do your job. When your impact extends beyond what you’re paid to do, so does your reputation.
Always work to make your boss successful. This is something you and I can do from the day we start to work until the day we retire. Jimmy Collins, the former President of Chick-Fil-A, Inc. just wrote a book entitled, Creative Followership. He’s the one who taught me this principle. I’ve been trying to act on it for almost 35 years. So far, so good!
Leading from the middle is hard; so is leading from the bottom. I don’t know much about leading from the top – I’ve never been there. My guess from what I do know, it’s hard there, too.
My encouragement is not to let your position in the hierarchy limit your leadership. True leadership has never been about position – it never will be.[GLS_Shield]
A couple of additional posts that may be helpful: Influencing Up and I Don’t Have Senior Leadership Support”