I’ve spent my entire career not being a manager. (I’m dedicated like that.) But I sure as hell have expertise in heading committees and working groups no one put me in charge of. Eventually in your career, you’re going to be asked to sit on one of these things. This is an excellent opportunity to flex your leadership muscles so you can show the world you’re ready to make your next move.
When you can’t just swagger into the room and let your power tie do the talking, there’s no obvious reason why people should follow you. You have to make them want to. This whole business is tricky and beset with mines of you’re not my supervisor, so let’s navigate it together.
1) Don’t wait for someone to put you in charge – volunteer.
What this looks like in practice: send around a proposed agenda beforehand and get feedback. Bring the agenda to the group and straight up run that meeting. Be the one who clarifies things to them – “Janice, it sounds like you mean X, is that right?” – and takes the meeting minutes. Keep the meeting on track when it runs off course.
2) Bring everyone in on the vision.
Chances are your project teammates have at least one common goal – increasing sales, raising awareness, whatever. (If they don’t, maybe it’s time to ask Real Boss what role they’re supposed to play on the team.) Since you’re now the Leader of Meetings, be clear at the outset about what outcomes are expected and how they relate to the big vision.
3) Go out of your way for your team.
Especially anyone who is territorial about ‘their’ job. I once drove a carless colleague across town to pick up work-related orders, and that person went from a detractor to a cheerleader of my ideas. Show that you’re a partner in Getting Shit Done, and most people will appreciate your effort. This often translates to looking to you for help in solving team problems, putting you in the leadership role.
4) Ask for help instead of assigning.
People love helping. “Janice, can you help with that?” is a great way to get someone on board. You’re inviting them to volunteer, and it looks like organizing instead of bossiness. If they say no, no worries, ask who can take the task on.
5) Ask what people need from you.
Catch up with your team members post-meeting and make sure they’re okay with their chosen assignments. If they sound unsure and you can lend a hand, make it happen.
6) Position yourself as a source of information.
This is where being meeting minute secretary comes in really useful. Be first out of the gate with answers. You don’t even have to really answer. Watch this in practice:
Janice: What are our goals for this project?
You: Last week we said that online sales have really been lagging. What’s a realistic goal for that?
Congratulations, you beautiful ninja, you didn’t even solve that problem but you’re now the official face of What Are Our Goals? Leadership!
This list is by no means exhaustive – how have you managed teams you weren’t in charge of?