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Saturday, November 11, 2006

How to lead when you're not in charge

I don't know about you, but I've recently found myself a smallish wheel in a big organisation.

As someone who tends to feel responsible for everything that crosses her path, I found it sometimes difficult to deal with structural problems, and wasn't entirely content with the obvious solution of sticking to my terms of reference. Luckily I'm not the only person asking how to lead when you're not in charge, and so I stumbled across a book of the same title by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Fisher and Sharp introduce the concept of lateral leadership and encourage everyone to take on the worthwhile task of improving the culture of working together.

Bored at work? You will find the task of choosing to help fresh and challenging. There is nothing in your job description that precludes you from doing so.

Sure, you're not going to change culture by telling people to do so. Better is to ask people to contribute their own thinking, to offer your own thoughts and to do something constructive:
Modeling behavior will be more visible if it cuts against people's expectations. A senior executive sets a powerful example by picking up coffee cups left at the end of a meeting.

No matter which sector, Fisher and Sharp propose five key elements of working together. All of these benefit from lateral leadership:
  • a shared purpose: Where are we going?
  • clear and structured thinking: What do we do?
  • learning from experience: How can we do better?
  • engaging everyone to his/her best: What can you contribute?
  • giving and taking feedback: How do we work together?
Before embarking on lateral leadership, the book encourages readers to develop necessary personal skills first. As a second step, it sketches a vision of jointly using these skills. Concrete ideas for lateral leadership come last in each chapter, and consist of examples how to ASK for data, to OFFER direction or to DO something.

Highly recommended for everyone who needs a slight nudge to claim back motivation and responsibility at work.

[Amazon link]

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