Informal Leadership

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar in which we explored concepts of informal leadership, including strategies for problem solving, crisis and conflict management, and building diverse teams. While I consider the relationships built during the week the most valuable “take-away” from the experience, the following take-aways represent the moments from the week where all I could think was “Yes. This!”

  • Be who you are–and make an effort to understand yourself. It is good to understand people’s expectations of you based on the role you play in their lives, and it is important to reframe those expectations based on what you know about yourself. In order to reframe other people’s expectations, you need to know what you need, what you want, and what you are willing to do.
  • Let other people be who they are–and listen to their story. Everyone has a story. Sometimes they won’t be ready to tell you the details of their story, but they will give you some powerful clues about why they are engaging with you the way they are. Tune in to those clues and be understanding and receptive to other people, just as you want them to be with you.
  • Approach problems collaboratively–don’t worry about who will “win.” Often, the best outcome to a problem won’t be the solution you came up with on your own. Let go of “winning” when negotiating the best solution to a problem, and open up to collaborating with stakeholders. (One caveat: In a situation where safety is at stake, it is ok to worry about “winning.”)
  • Conflict, competition, and compromise are necessary–they are often even “good.” One of my fellow students likened conflict and compromise to the friction that keeps wheels moving forward on pavement. Every problem solving scenario we engaged in during the course of the week yielded better results when we worked in teams to solve the problem. Combining different, often conflicting, views to look at an issue from multiple perspectives gave us rich material from which to create innovative solutions.
  • Respond, don’t react. Choose to respond to issues that you face with thought and consideration. When a problem, conflict, or crisis arises, stop and think about how to deal with it and who you want involved. Take a moment to consider what precisely is at the heart of the problem, and whether you should respond as an advisor, coach, mentor, or facilitator.
  • Tell your story. Because if you don’t, someone else will. This one really blew my mind. It is obvious, but it is one of those obvious statements that is easy to apply to other people and not yourself. Although I am outgoing, I sometimes struggle with “putting myself out there” in avenues like this blog because it feels a little like I’m shouting “Look what I can do! Look at me!” I realized last week, though, that if I don’t “put myself out there” as an advocate for the things I support (important things like empowering people through unrestricted access to information and supporting efforts to create a culture of lifelong learning), then I am giving away a powerful opportunity to use my voice.

I have the good fortune of having one of those voices that, in real life, carries across the crowd and to the back of a room without the aid of a microphone. I’m looking forwarding to finding my equivalent online voice. I encourage you to find yours, too.