Sandy Geroux’s top tips for demonstrating authority
So, you’ve been asked to perform the duties of a leader. Of course you have! You’re an Executive Admin and leadership comes with the job. But it’s unofficial and untitled, so you don’t always have the rank to assist you with the responsibilities.
This is actually not a problem because, as we all realize, true leadership isn’t about intimidating people with a title or bullying them into doing what we want them to, despite what too many titled leaders seem to believe.
Leadership comes from the heart
True leadership is about guiding others to common goals through respect, passion, and persuasion, regardless of whether you’re in the workplace, your community, or even in your family. It doesn’t come from titles, power, or rank, it comes from within… and it comes from the heart. Otherwise, it’s just plain bullying.
Regardless, we still need to deal with everything that comes with the responsibilities of leadership in the workplace.
There are many factors that contribute to our success and credibility when placed in leadership situations. Factors such as how we lead, which leadership style we use in which situations, and our capacity to communicate goals, inspire others and willingly help them succeed are critical factors in our ability to lead others.
However, I’d like to offer here three quick and easy-to-implement tips that will help anyone (in any position) tactfully and effectively demonstrate leadership, communicate their authority, and skillfully handle conflicts that may arise in these situations.
1. Be Sure Your Actions Exude Confidence
We all know that what we say only communicates part of the message. What we do, and how we do (and say) it matter even more than the words we choose to speak. Take a look at the list of actions below that exude confidence versus the opposite actions that inadvertently demonstrate weakness:
- Standing straight and looking people in the eye versus standing slumped and looking at the floor or avoiding eye contact.
- Not being afraid to sit next to powerful players in a meeting versus sitting as far away from the power players as possible, or always sitting toward the back of the room.
- Carrying a briefcase, folders, pad, pens and being very organized versus having no files or folders (a.k.a., no information!) with you or being disorganized. There is nothing more disconcerting than having someone fumble through papers and files (or even phone messages!) during a meeting in an effort to find information requested by other members of the team. Have everything organized and at your fingertips.
- Sitting in a relaxed, but professional, manner during meetings versus sitting too stiffly and formally (demonstrating nervousness) or in a slumped posture that is too casual for the situation.
- Not hesitating (or waiting for permission) to speak up versus never speaking up unless asked.
- Having a firm handshake (but not too firm) versus a weak, limp handshake.
- Greeting others and initiating conversations versus not doing so or barely responding when others speak to you.
- Speaking confidently versus making your voice barely audible or being too timid.
- Accepting praise gracefully versus downplaying praise and recognition or denigrating yourself due to embarrassment at being praised. Often, all you need to say is a simple, “Thank you” – and leave it at that.
- Being assertive but polite during discussions or debates versus being argumentative, defensive, or unpleasant.
- Dressing (and grooming) appropriately for the dress code in your organization versus dressing inappropriately for either the organization or the position. (Remember, if you want a higher position, you should dress as if you already hold it!)
2. Build Strong Networks and Alliances
If you haven’t already done so – start now! You can’t always do everything on your own. By enlisting the help of others who have connections with, or influence over, key players or difficult people, you can often gain support to help strengthen your position.
Remember, there is strength in numbers.
If difficult people see that either influential people or a LOT of other people agree with you, they will usually come around, even if only due to political pressure to support your initiative.
Here are two tips to remember when building networks and asking for help:
First, don’t wait until you need something to starting building a relationship. It’s much easier to ask for a favor if you already have a relationship with someone, rather than starting the relationship by asking for something. And don’t communicate with others only when you need something. We all know people who can’t seem to give us the time of day until they need something – and then they’re our “best bud.” Don’t be that person.
This brings us to the second tip, which is to always remember that a relationship is a two-way street. Don’t always be on the receiving end of favors. If you notice that someone needs something, don’t always wait for them to ask for help. The other person may be too swamped to even think of what you could do to help them, or they may be too proud to ask for help. Whatever the case, be sure to give as much as (if not more than) you receive. Take note of this great quote from William Barclay: “Always give without remembering and receive without forgetting.”
3. Learn all you can about the other players you are to lead
The more you know about people, the more successfully you will be able to speak with, inspire and connect with them in order to achieve your mutual goals. It will also help you sidestep any land mines you need to be aware of when working with them.
What is their communication style?
Are they aggressive? Passive? Passive-aggressive? Will they try to take over the meeting or dominate conversations? Will they intimidate and prevent others from speaking up? Do they have a hidden agenda?
By knowing how people communicate, as well as who may be trying for a “power play” at your meeting and what they’re likely to do, you can prevent yourself from being blind-sided simply because you didn’t do your homework ahead of time.
Be careful not to create issues where none exist.
Just prepare your mind ahead of time, so you will be better able to handle challenges and prevent yourself from losing your composure if and when they arise.
Also, don’t be afraid to “table” a discussion if you’re not prepared to engage in it at that time, or if there isn’t sufficient time for it without sidetracking your planned agenda. You can diplomatically say, “That’s a great question and we really should discuss that issue. Let’s put it on the agenda for our next meeting so we can tackle the issues that need our immediate attention today.”
Even if they push back and say that their issue is important, too (if it really is or it represents something you may have overlooked), you can decide to discuss it then anyway. But if not, you can say, “I agree that it is important, but we need a little more research and discussion time to do it justice. Why don’t we each research the issue, as well as possible solutions and bring suggestions to the next meeting? I’ll do a little background research as well, so we’ll be prepared to make an informed decision.”
In this way, you let the aggressive person know you’re in charge, without “throwing them under the bus” or losing your composure in front of the rest of the team. Believe me, the team will see who is being reasonable – and who is not – and they will respect you more for handling situations diplomatically. If you get upset or angry and cause a scene by challenging someone in front of the group, it could cause them to dig their heels in and refuse to budge because they won’t want to back down or lose face in front of their peers. Allowing others to save face is actually one way to gain buy-in and prevent others from unnecessarily torpedoing your meetings in an effort to “gain the upper hand.”
Leadership may not be easy, but if we always focus on keeping calm and behaving professionally and confidently, while building strong relationships along the way, we can tactfully demonstrate our authority and get things done!