Taking Charge When You're Not in Charge

After much time as an individual contributor, you've suddenly found yourself stuck between a colleague and a boss place. You haven’t been granted formal authority, but you’re still expected to showcase leadership qualities and usher your peers through a project or department transition. What’s the best approach? Here are some tips.

1. Set the standard: Your coworkers do not report to you, so don't enter this situation as if they do. Instead, set the example of how you expect others to approach the project or how to interact with the team. If you're enthusiastic, they'll be enthusiastic. If you present an air of accountability, so will they. You may feel under pressure with your new responsibilities, but try not to let it show. Avoid complaining around your teammates.

2. Less talking is more. When you first enter your unofficial leadership role, you may think that you need to do all the talking. But one of the most vital leadership qualities is encouraging dialogue. To get people talking, you need to listen; really listening means being receptive to other ideas and opinions. This will set the expectation that each member of the team is an equal contributor deserving of respect.

3. Share the wealth. Once you’re in charge, it may be tempting to assign your work friends the best projects. But now is the time to exercise fairness. Showcase your leadership qualities and collaboration skills by encouraging everyone to do their finest work and meet deadlines. Remind the team of short- and long-term project objectives, and celebrate when each one is met.

4. Share the workload. Don't delegate all the work and rest on your laurels. Your colleagues will notice if you aren't pulling your weight or if you continually push off fire drills to someone else. You'll exert the most influence when others see you working as hard – if not harder – than they are.

5. Be genuine. Being in charge of a project shouldn’t change your personality, so try to avoid “playing boss” or adopting any kind of false persona. Your peers, who have worked with you for some time, will see right through this behavior. Instead, be you and remain personable and genuine in your interactions. This will help you retain your colleague’s respect.

6. Be accountable. When projects go well, good leaders point to their teams' hard work and share the praise. When there are missteps, they take ownership, regardless of how mistakes were made. When something goes wrong, work with your team to uncover the issue and identify ways to prevent future problems. Avoid pointing fingers at anyone. That’s a surefire way to erode trust.

7. Follow a leader. Is there a leader in your organization whom you admire and respect? Who has had a positive impact on your career? Emulate him or her and perhaps even ask that person to mentor you. The tips you learn could be invaluable.

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