What happens when you’re placed in a leadership position of a group of people you barely know and have never worked with before? How can you come into that situation and be successful at branding yourself as an effective leader? Can it even be done if you’re not already a confident leader in that area?
In the last couple weeks, I’ve had the really interesting experience of observing two leaders who came into that sort of situation. Both of those experiences started off the same way. In each case, I was at an underwater hockey tournament playing with a team put together just for that tournament. The players were from different locations, most had never played together before, and the players had vastly-different skill and ability levels. The challenge of each team captain was to pull together this hodgepodge group on the morning of the tournament and turn us into an effective team.
Sounds like a nightmare situation for a leader, right? There’s really nothing worse than being responsible for leading a strange, unorganized, varied-skill group into intense competition!
As it turned out, one leader did a great job. The other floundered from the beginning and never gained the respect of our team. In the case of the second captain, what brought her down was not her inexperience with the game, it was how she failed to get us to see her as a leader.
The leader brand
So what could she have done to brand herself as the leader? And as she was relatively new to the sport herself, was it even possible for her to be an effective leader? Absolutely! Even though my first captain was an accomplished veteran of the sport, the majority of what he did in the beginning could be done by anyone to show their leadership abilities.
Here’s how you brand yourself as a leader right away, even if you’re inexperienced.
1. Find out your team’s capabilities ASAP.
When you’re thrown together with a random group of people, there’s no way you can succeed if you don’t know what the individuals on your team can do. As soon as my effective captain found out who was going to be on his team, he got in contact with the whole group and asked us to tell him (a)our experience with the sport/ability level and (b)the position we usually play (and any back-up positions we could play.) As a result, he gained some extra hours to figure out our strategy – and knew what he had (and in some of our cases, what he didn’t have!)
2. Schedule a time to get the team together for the first time.
When you’re with a random group of people who you don’t know, there’s nothing worse than wandering into the tournament space, and not knowing who you’re supposed to find, where you’re supposed to go, when you’re playing first, and what you’re going to be doing. Trust me – it’s nerve-wracking. That’s why it was a smart move when my effective captain asked us all to meet him 30 minutes before the tournament started to meet and discuss strategy.
3. Plan a strategy.
Once our effective captain brought us together, we briefly discussed what positions we were playing, and then launched into a strategy session. He told us what formation he thought we should play, and then we discussed how our abilities would play into that and how to take advantage of the playing field. We came out of the meeting feeling confident in what we were doing, and especially in his ability to lead us.
Inexperienced leaders can make this work even if you have no idea about the strategy your team should use! Leading isn’t about having all the answers, it’s about asserting that it’s important to have a strategy and then guiding the discussion. So if you’re inexperienced, brand yourself as a leader by getting the team to come up with the strategy together. It’s not the leader’s job to make the entire strategy – it’s the leader’s job to make sure the team gets a strategy! (Even if it comes from others!)
4. Enforce the strategy.
Once your team has developed that strategy, the leader’s job is to make sure that strategy happens. My first captain was extremely effective because he kept bringing our team back to the strategy at every break, held us accountable and pushed us to achieve it. Whenever we were gathered at the wall, he asked “were you doing what we discussed for your position?” Knowing that he would ask if I’d positioned myself to receive the puck at a 45 degree angle made me more conscious of where I was on every play. I didn’t succeed every time, and neither did my teammates, but that accountability pushed us to adhere to the strategy ,and was a huge component of our success.
Good strategy, effective leader
If your team has a strategy, but then runs wild and doesn’t use it, you won’t be seen as an effective leader. And holding your team accountable is critical to having a successful strategy. That way, if the strategy is good, your team will be successful. And if your strategy isn’t working, you know it’s because the strategy doesn’t work (and the failure isn’t due to your team not doing what they’re supposed to). Then you can change the strategy until it does work.
Being viewed as an effective leader doesn’t depend utterly on experience and prior success in that field. After all, there are many sports stars who are horrible coaches in their sport – while others who were less successful as players turn out to be incredible coaches. What matter is how you conduct yourself as that leader.
Even if you’re asked to lead a hodgepodge team with many inexperienced, low-skill players who have never played with you or each other before, and you have no idea what you’re doing, it’s still possible to get your team to see you as a good leader.
All you have to do is find out the capabilities of your team quickly, bring the team together right away, determine the best strategy for its ability, and then keep checking in with your team to make sure that everyone is sticking to that strategy.
Katie Konrath blogs about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at www.getfreshminds.com. She works for leading innovation company, Ideas To Go.