There are the people who have to do what they are told, and then there are the people who get to decide what people do.
Doers and deciders. Which would you like to be?
Even if by position you are supposed to be a doer, there’s a way that you can take on more and more of the decider role, the leader role, and be someone who is influencing the decision. Here’s a quick way that you can start to make that transition and establish yourself as a leader.
Houston, We Have a Problem
It has to do with who is doing the thinking. Watch how this works.
Say you are a doer at work, and a problem comes up. What are you supposed to do? Take the problem to the boss and say something like,
“Hey, boss: We have a situation. What do you want to do about it?”
This is the normal, expected approach.
Then you wait while the boss drops whatever they were doing and goes through the effort of figuring out what the best thing to do is. Then they tell you to do it.
But here are the problems with this approach.
First, you’ll always be just the person who does what the boss tells them to do. That’s not a bad thing, but you can do a lot better.
Second, over time, the boss may come to associate you with the problems that keep cropping up; your approach represents an approaching problem in their mind. Not such a good thing.
Third, the boss is doing all the thinking while you wait passively for direction. One brain is trying to do all the thinking for the whole team.
Fourth, you don’t have much influence over the boss’s decision. It might be what you expect, but they also might come out of left field with something impractical or dumb. And now you are going to have to do it.
Influencing the Decision
What is a better way to go about it? You can influence the decision by helping with the thinking.
When a problem crops up, pause for a moment* to consider how you might help solve it. Maybe even run through a quick problem-solving process to help you sort it out.
Then when you go to the boss, say,
“Hey, we’ve come across a problem, but I also think we have a way to deal with it”
State the issue, and then suggest how the problem could be solved.
Close with something like,
“So with your OK, I’ll go ahead and get to work on it…”
What’s Better About This?
You are helping with the thinking. As submarine commander Captain Marquet pointed out, several brains working on a problem is far better than just one.
You are a solution, not a problem. As you help with the thinking you become part of the solution-finding process, and that’s a good place to be in the mind of the boss.
You are partnering with the boss. As you help solve problems, the boss may start to see you as an ally who can help them, not just another worker following orders.
The solutions may be better. Since you suggested it and you are closer to the problem, the actual solution may be better, and you will be happier putting it into effect.
Your influence will grow. As the boss learns that he can rely on you for good ideas and solutions, trust will grow, and with it your ability to influence future decisions. You are beginning the transition to informal leader.
After you have done this a little while and begun to build up a little trust, you can take this to the next level.
Bring others in on your problem solving. The value of the solution you propose increases markedly if you are able to say that you checked with others who believe it to be a good solution. Just be careful not to get ahead of the boss. It’s their decision, not yours, so don’t make any commitments or tie his hands.
Get some mentoring. The boss may or may not accept your idea. That’s fine; they are the boss. But while you are talking, seek to understand why they chose the solution they did (without getting defensive!) If you get them to share their thought process, you can better understand their perspective, and your future recommendations will be better as a result.
Influencing the Decision – The Takeaway
Leadership is about influencing people in a direction.
If you can find a way to help someone, you can influence them.
In the process of helping find good solutions for your team and your boss, you are becoming a leader.
* NOTE: If the situation is time-sensitive, don’t wait to tell the boss what’s going on. But after letting them know, you can still offer to help come up with some solutions.