Even if it’s none of your business… 

It might still be your business. 

What do I mean by “leading from the side”?

Leading from above, below and within are pretty obvious. But from the side?
Wherever you are in your organisation, there are probably some parts of it that you rarely interact with. Maybe marketing. Or building management. It depends on what you do every day. 

So what do you do if you spot something to do with one of them that worries you? Or something that would be a great opportunity if someone noticed?

It’s none of your business. It won’t really affect you. 

But is it important? 

If not, then don’t get involved. They have their own priorities and concerns and opportunities to deal with. 

But if it is… Do something! Figure out the right person to talk to, and say something. 

How?

There are 2 key points. 

First. It helps if you have established good relationships across your organisation. Even in the parts you rarely interact with. This is a key factor in building influence. If you have a good pre-existing relationship with someone they are much more likely to be willing to listen and treat your comments as valuable. 

Second. The less the issue impacts on your part of the business, the more you have to dial up the humility. “I know this isn’t really any of my business… but do we need to be careful about [this issue]?”

Why is this important?

Your unique perspective, knowledge and experience lead to unique insights. Whatever your role. 

If you spot something you think is important, it might be that no-one else has seen it. 

With that in mind, which is worse… 

The risk that you say something and it’s already been thought of? 

The risk you say something and you’re wrong? 

Or the risk that you don’t say something and you miss the opportunity or the concern becomes true?

If you’re committed to the success of your organisation, if it’s important but it’s none of your business, it IS your business. 

What do YOU think?

Or maybe that should be “What do you THINK?”

Often in a discussion there are various sides to take into account. If we look at things from one perspective a particular course of action seems obvious. But when we move our viewpoint, other options come into play and appear equally as valid. In such circumstances it can be difficult to know what to do.

If you are “leading from above” you’re  expected to listen to all the options, the pros and cons of each, and arrive at a decision about the way forward.

If you’re not the “leader from above” head honcho, you still have an opportunity to lead from below or within. But only if you’re willing to come to your own view about what you think should be done. And say it out loud.

It’s all very well to understand the context, the various options and the pros and cons of each. It is absolutely necessary to be sure that the discussion group has all of that in front of them. But the only way you “steer” a discussion is by coming to your own conclusion and being willing to state it publicly.

This can be hard. Especially if you think your final view doesn’t match where you think “the leader” will end up, or goes against what other powerful figures in the discussion think. But those are often the moments when it is most important that you state your opinion.

Now. I’m not advocating career suicide. If you know that Mrs X will make sure you get sacked if you go against her in public… Well… You have to pick your battles and choose how to fight them.

But if your unique perspective on a problem, which comes from your unique experience, knowledge and understanding of the context, is at odds with others in the room, there’s every chance they’re missing something important.

It might be that stating your opinion doesn’t change the end result. The boss might still choose to place more weight on a different view. You have to accept that this might happen.

But the capacity to weigh the pros and cons of various options and come up with a clear view on what to do is a crucial leadership skill.

The very best teams are able to engage with the different options in a complex situation, have members of the group speak clearly on different sides of the argument and then proceed with the final decision as a unified group.

So if you want to be in a powerful team, if you want to steer that team as it moves forwards, practise deciding what you would do if you were in charge and saying it out loud in a way that contributes positively to the decision-making process.

You’ll be exercising your leadership muscles. And people will notice.

Leading from wherever

In a post on thinking about where you sit I introduced a model of every organisation’s structure, with you at it’s centre.

where-are-you

So how do you lead from within? From below and to the side?

We tend to think of “leadership advice” as being designed to help the leader sitting up high build success by working better with the group of people supposed to follow her. In other words, it’s always about leading from above.

But just about every leadership lesson ever written can be applied whatever your situation.

For example… Many lists of leadership characteristics state that leaders must have vision and focus. The image we tend to draw from this is the CEO painting an inspiring picture of a shining future and keeping the troops clear-minded on the one or two key things needed to get there.

But this idea applies to everyone.

Your organisation may have a top-level leader who has set a clear “vision”. So what is YOUR vision for what that means in YOUR part of the business? Or for YOUR role in the hierarchy?

What are the one or two things YOU need to focus on in order to bring that local vision into being? The things that should be on YOUR important but not urgent to do list?

Whatever the leadership technique or approach or idea, wherever you sit in the hierarchy, you can ask yourself “How can apply this to my work, from where I am, in a way that helps our organisation get better?”

Successful organisations challenge and encourage all of their people to think this way.

Start doing so without encouragement and you’ll be leading powerfully from within.