Workplace Wisdom

How to Claim Your Authority When You Feel Like One of the Gang

We all know that a title isn’t enough to elicit respect from your subordinates, or even to develop confidence in yourself. If employees and other leaders think of you as having grown up in the business, they may not take you completely seriously.

You can feel torn between wanting to be well regarded and accepted by your team, and making sure that all the work is going the way it needs to go. If you have a reasonable amount of humility, you’ve got to wonder: In this new circumstance, what does it really mean to be in charge? Take these steps to find the right balance of authority, credibility, and rapport.

Remember your highest goals and most crucial loyalties. Always keep the successful future of the organization and the needs of your customers firmly in mind, so they can become touchstones for you and your team. Describe what success looks like and why we need to reach it. That way, when you detail the next steps for actually achieving your goals, the team will have context for moving forward.

Ask how you can help them do their best. Show the team that you haven’t forgotten where you came from — and that you’re prepared to take them somewhere else. Experiment with new structures and approaches to provide the support they need and keep the parts that work.

Behave decisively. Your team members want to know where you stand and whether they can count on you, so you’ll need to make clear decisions and take action promptly. But that doesn’t mean diving in without thought, or issuing directives cavalierly or on the fly. Instead, share your views about “how we do things here” and present the parameters of your decision and why you’ve made it, and then be sure to take the action you’ve described.

Make sure communication is two-way. Don’t let important things go unsaid or unacknowledged. If someone rolls their eyes or smirks at you, ask them directly about what they’re thinking. Show that you’re open to input by explicitly soliciting your team’s opinions, and, just as explicitly, credit them when their input leads to progress. Similarly, if you know someone’s not giving their best, point out that they didn’t deliver 100 percent and ask what was in their way.

Be the eye of the storm. Don’t ignore or downplay problems, but avoid drama. Use your body and your voice as well as your words to convey calm and certitude — physical cues actually count more. You’re not trying to convey that the possible solutions are easy or automatic, but rather that you will absolutely figure out what to do.

Make it an inside job. Whenever you’re feeling particularly challenged by your team members, try a mental exercise: See challenging individuals as parts of yourself, informing you about your own concerns or confusions, rather than as the opposition throwing things at you. Probe your own thinking: Why would I have this concern or expectation? Use your answers to make your decision and strengthen your own argument. And then go back to your team members and thank them for contributing.

Build and use your external network. Start — or continue — building a network of professional colleagues and friends outside your organization. You’ll need replacements for the social interactions and collaborative thinking you used to enjoy with your team. You may still celebrate birthdays together, but to coach and discipline your team effectively, you’ll need to establish professional separation from them, and you’ll feel that loss of human contact. Taking steps to get the caring and support you need from the outside will protect you from the temptation to overbuild internal relationships.

Stretch yourself. Help yourself grow into the kind of leader you want to be. Picture the leaders you’ve admired, and model yourself on them. And let your team members push you! If they identify a weakness or soft spot of yours, just congratulate them and get their support for whatever you’re working on.

Be and Share Your Real Self

No matter what, keep showing up as your whole, best self, regardless of your current personal situation or organizational condition, because you can be sure that your people will be checking every day to see what kind of day you’re having as a way to know what kind of day they’re likely to have.

Be candid when things aren’t going perfectly well, because your team members deserve to know the truth, and you need to maintain credibility. But also be sure to share all the progress, accolades, and growth you experience, to ensure they participate in the team’s success and get to feel that they’ve been a part of yours, too.

Onward and upward,

LK

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