Sometimes the most influential leaders step up not because position demands it, but because it’s the right thing to do even when the path ahead is foggy and feelings of uncertainty about how to proceed are intense. On occasions when a person unexpectedly comes forward to do more than is required, it can reveal his or her true capabilities and worth. Leading during crisis or upheaval takes commitment, flexibility and heart—and the outcome can mean big wins for the organization, as well as individual team members.
“Not long ago, I was working as an associate on a team that was enormously impacted by a major organizational transition and realignment. Our group significantly decreased in size, we lost our manager and had no direction or strategy for how to move forward in the new reality. Needless to say, the situation was scary and very uncomfortable. We all well understood that the financial stakes were really high, but our group felt completely lost and disconnected.
“At a point when we were feeling especially insecure, one of our accounts receivable analysts, Wayne Johnson, stepped forward to say he would be willing to volunteer to assist the team. An individual contributor without a team of his own, Wayne said he would be happy to stand in temporarily as someone to report to if anything was needed. His ultimate actions and commitment to the team, however, resulted in a much greater impact than we initially expected.
“Wayne took it upon himself to deep dive into our processes and figure out what needed to be done within our new organizational climate. Recognizing our roles were evolving and had to adjust to meet the changing needs of the business, he tested and reshaped our processes multiple times according to what was required, as well as what felt correct for the wellbeing of the business and our customers. His influence ensured we were able to keep things moving correctly.
“Yet, as much as he helped keep our team on track during an uncertain time, Wayne’s influence actually had a much larger impact on me personally. He recognized I was determined to learn and trusted me to take ownership in my role and run with it, all the while pushing me to expand my abilities and improve where I could do – and be – better. His consistent actions, unwavering encouragement and gentle guidance allowed me to be successful and gain visibility. My resulting growth and development led to my receiving a promotion.
“Wayne’s own drive and determination, combined with his openness, honesty and servant leadership mindset is inspiring. He pushed me to participate in more activities, resulting my pursuit of a graduate degree and participation in a Milestone Leadership experience. Both endeavors opened my eyes to the possibilities of how I, too, can lead. Having recently completed my MBA, I have been reflecting back on what helped me achieve this monumental goal. Wayne’s leadership and dedication to helping others to grow to their desired potential is at the pit of the fire that fueled my success.
When I see Wayne, I always try to thank him for the opportunities and drive he gave me. He would say, ‘It’s all you…you did the work,” but I know his kind insistence that I could achieve more really made the difference. I know now that leadership is a mindset, not just a position. I’m actively looking for ways I can make a difference, offer solutions and be the kind of inspiration Wayne has been for me.”
Melanie Suber, MBA—Lead Business Analyst – Post Audit, Genpact
At Milestone Leadership, experience tells us that anyone can step up as a leader, whether they hold the title on an org chart or not. Here are some ways to be a leader worth following, even if you’re not the one “in charge:”
- Look for gaps in processes or procedures that, if resolved or improved, could make everyone’s jobs easier. Take the initiative to suggest changes and help communicate or clarify what comes next.
- Be observant of where coworkers are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, and offer assistance. Don’t wait until a situation is critical; offer a hand.
- Set the tone for how you want team members to feel and behave toward you and each other. Establish a personal reputation for being welcoming, responsive and encouraging—and work to reinforce that same behavior within your group.
- Look for tasks that may be overlooked or going undone because others say, “That’s not my job.” Step in to carry a bit of extra weight when appropriate, even if it’s not explicitly spelled out in your job description.
- Pull up out of the weeds and look into the future. Rather than focus every moment on the to-do list for today, regularly consider and talk about what is ahead and develop an attitude of optimism and vision.
- Think beyond yourself and only what concerns you. Envision what is best for everyone and work to implement it. What’s good for the group will ultimately benefit each individual.
- Teach others. If you know how to do something well, share the wealth and improve your team’s overall capabilities by expanding the knowledge of your peers.
- Give credit and offer praise where it’s due. Not only acknowledge to a peer that you’ve noticed their achievement or great work—also take the time to tell their manager.