You receive a call from your manager in the morning and she tells you that she has a family emergency and won’t be in for the next two to three weeks. She apologizes profusely and gives you a rundown of all her critical tasks that you must oversee. Three of those tasks include kicking off new client projects where you’ll need to lead the work team and ensure they are completed on time and on budget. She’s contacting you because she believes you are the best one to fill her shoes in her absence.
When you get off the phone and take a moment to digest everything you’ve heard, congratulate yourself. You’ve just been thrust into a leadership position. So now what?
The first thing you’ll need to do is call a quick impromptu meeting with everyone to let them know what life will be like over the next several weeks. And be prepared to deal with a few people who resent you and will be difficult to deal with because they feel cheated out of the opportunity to be in your shoes. They are the ones who will try to trip you up into failure and tell your manager upon her return, “Too bad you didn’t choose me.” You know who they are, and it may be a good strategy to make them feel integral to success and that you’ll be counting on them to help you out. Treat them as laterals to you and they will roll up their sleeves to get to work.
Second, after you dispatch everyone back to task, manage by moving around. Talk with everyone on your team frequently and compliment often when you see people working as a team. But also confront those who seem disruptive. And quickly. Your best approach will be through the use of I-Messages – the most effective and efficient way to counter and reverse unacceptable behaviors.
Third, because you are a leader, act like one and lead through example. Make sure you get your hands as dirty as everyone else. Be the first one in the office in the morning and the last one to leave at night. This will be your easiest way to earn instant respect. If you don’t, you’re clearly telling everyone that the critical projects they are working on aren’t really that critical at all, and you’ll be indirectly giving them a license to not work very hard. After all, a leader can’t expect his or her people to do something he or she has never done, especially in a crisis.
These points aren’t just for those thrust into a leadership position. These are actions everyone should take if they wish to earn the respect of their work team and advance in their career. If you wish to be a leader, act like, behave like, and quack like a leader.