Leading From Within

The definition of leadership is quite simply, “to influence the behavior of another person.”  Notice the definition does not refer to a title, position, education, or formal authority over another person.  It is merely the ability to influence.  The literal definition is particularly important to understand for a discussion about leading when you are not in a “position” of leadership.  John Maxwell writes, “Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is. You can make a difference no matter where you are.”  In fact, the most effective leadership comes from the middle of the organization.  That place where you have highly talented team members that are close to the action and can lead based on their privileged perspective and first-hand expertise.

The idea of leading from below runs counter to the conventional understanding that leadership is positional.  While there is nothing wrong with positional leadership, good leaders realize the power of those leading from below.  No competent CEO or President has ever said, “I have too many leaders.”  They see the value of developing leaders and empowering them to lead from where they are in the organization.  It can even be seen as an informal succession planning process, as great leaders emphasize developing leaders from within the group and create opportunities for them to grow.

Team members that aspire to leadership positions must be careful not to squander their ability to have a real impact by leading from where they are today.   I’ve mentioned a leader’s obligation to be a lifelong learner.  Consider the idea of leading from below a part of the learning process.  Refining your skills and techniques as a leader can prepare you to become more effective as you grow into more positional leadership roles.

Keys to understanding power and influence

We are all created in the image of God, and that means we are endowed with traits and characteristics that come from our Father.  This includes leadership.  Some may have been given the gift of leadership in different measure than others but we all have it and we are are all in a position to lead or influence (someone).  A high IQ, EQ, and general charisma can play into a leader’s effectiveness.  But, an understanding of human behavior and how power and influence work is helpful as we develop our leadership techniques, regardless of where we sit on the organization chart.

There are five widely accepted sources of power and influence.  Positional, Coercive, Reward, Expert, and Referent. 

·       Positional power is the influence that comes from the more traditional and hierarchical structure within the organization.  “The buck stops” with those who have positional or “legitimate power.”  People with positional power assign duties and direct activities for their team.  It is important for a person who holds a position of power to have earned it legitimately.  Positional power can be problematic if the person does not have the respect of their team.

·       Coercive power is the ability to influence behavior through threats, punishments, or sanctions.  This type of power can serve to keep performance within the standard framework created to maintain acceptable standards and drive desired behaviors.

·       Reward power is the ability to influence behavior through incentives.  Bonuses, compensation, and other benefits.

·       Referent power is the more relational type of influence.  The ability to garner the respect of your peers through genuine relationship building.  With relationships, comes comradery, trust, and influence.

·       Expert power draws on an individual’s ability to establish a high level of expertise in a particular area.  This expertise adds credibility to their voice and ability to influence others in the desired direction.

The five sources are all unique and can be effective, and it is helpful to understand the good and bad of each source.  Much like you learned about your strengths, these sources of power have a “shadow” side.  Understanding their shadow traits and using them in combination proves to be a very effective model.

The goal of understanding these sources is to create a plan of how to use the ones you control.  Some might be out of our control, and that is okay.  You will find those sources are not entirely necessary to have an impact.


Ask yourself these questions:

1.     What source or combination of sources of power are most effective?

2.     Can you pick out examples of the uses of power that had a positive and/or a negative effect on an organization?

3.     How do you lead up and still work within the vision set by senior leadership?

4.     What does a plan to lead from within look like for you?

a.     Baby steps?  What three things can you do to put yourself in a position to influence others and have an impact on the mission?

Evaluate the Past or Coach for the Future?

What if we turned the world of annual reviews upside down?  What if we admitted the variables and biases involved in one human rating another is not an effective means of performance management?

The research is in, and it is conclusive.  People are not capable of rating people!  Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff conducted the research and published it in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Their study—in which 4,492 managers were rated on certain performance dimensions by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates—revealed that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ peculiarities of perception. Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance. 

Let’s break this down into a real-world example.  Rating a team member on critical thinking is more about my critical thinking, the value I place on critical thinking, my thoughts on what critical thinking is, and how tough a rater I am.  It is more about me than it is the team member. 

You have to stop and ask, “Why am I doing this?  Is it adding value”  Is it strengthening the team member?  Is it going to improve performance?”  NO!  It is a perfunctory system that is biased and produces few results.  In fact, it might have a paradoxical effect.  Tieing compensation to an arbitrary and biased process of rating an employee could have a negative impact on morale?  Consider the effect of receiving a glowing review from one manager who leans towards a more generous rating and the next year receiving a critical review from a different manager that is bent on a stronger rating curve.  Did the employee’s performance decline or did they just get hammered by the inherently biased performance evaluation process?

What are we honestly hoping to achieve?  What if we flipped the process on its ear and made it about performance management?  And by “management,” I mean improvement.  What if we replaced the word “review” with “coach”?

The idea of coaching changes the mindset.  We are no longer looking at the past but focus our efforts on the present and the future.  It allows us to be agile and responsive.  It converts leaders and managers into coaches.  It binds everyone together.

Critical elements to success

Leaders must focus on the following:  (This must be at the core of your leadership philosophy)

  • Hire great – Leaders should always hire up. 
  • Equip each team member – Great team members will come with a toolbox of skills.  It is a leader’s job to ensure they are properly equipped for the current mission.
  • Cast an inspiring vision – If you can’t articulate what inspires you, you cannot inspire others.
  • Empower – You must empower each team member to execute based on their role and skillset.
  • Remove barriers – Your primary job now becomes that of a coach.  Your job is to remove barriers and help each team member succeed.

3 Tips for effective coaching

  1. Meet regularly and meet with purpose – Meeting with your team member allows you to discover barriers, strategizing solutions, inspire progress, and empower them to focus on the future.
  2. Review projects – Real-time reviews of project-based performance allows you to coach and correct within the context of real-time experiences.  The purpose is to provide relevant feedback at the moment, so it becomes actionable.  A vague and nonspecific critique over 12 months is tough for anyone to wrap their mind around.  Even the best managers and leaders are left to generalize when trying to encapsulate 2,080 hours of work.
  3. Set Goals that align with the mission – Each meeting and each project review gives you an opportunity to recast the vision, reset expectations, ensure alignment, and (re)empower the team member to be successful.

There is something inherently positive and inspiring about a process focused on the future rather than a fuzzy and generalized review of the past.







Meet With Purpose


Patrick Lencioni writes, “Bad meetings are not inevitable. There is nothing inherently boring or unproductive about meetings. They are the activity at the center of every organization, and should, therefore, be both interesting and relevant in the lives of participants…”  Paraphrased, they are what you make of them so why not make the most of them.

Do you find yourself wasting time in meetings?  Are your meetings productive?  Using a sports metaphor, do they help advance the ball down the field?  Surveys of mid-level managers and leaders repeatedly report more than 50% of the meetings they participate in are a waste of time.  There is no malintent here.  Managers or leaders don’t want to waste time and money, and nobody wants to sit through another meeting that doesn’t add value.

So, how do we recognize the value of meetings and not waste time and money along the way?

5 Steps to meet with a purpose:

1.       Assess the cost of a meeting.  We often over invite when creating meeting invitations.  Being cognizant of the cost to the organization is helpful when assessing the attendee list and the value each attendee adds to the meeting.  Harvard Business Review published a Meeting Cost tool to help assess the cost of a meeting.

2.       Don’t over invite.  Think critically about those who need to attend.  Limit the list to individuals who need to present information or take away information and action items.  Courtesy invitations or invites to serve a political purpose are often a waste of time and money.

3.       Limit the time you allow for the meeting.  Managers will often default the meeting to 30 or 60 minutes because those are default settings in their calendar.  This will result in the confirmation of Parkinson’s law, an adage that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion."  A meeting scheduled for 60 minutes will inevitable take 60 minutes even though there were only 20 minutes of substantive content

4.       Publish the agenda ahead of the meeting and assign prep work.  Giving the team something to think about ahead of time will focus their input and guide the discussion.

5.       Start and stop on time.  Our schedules are packed, and we need to make the most out of the day.  One meeting that fails to start on time is disrespectful to those who worked hard to make it to the meeting and meeting that fails to end on time cuts into the attendee’s ability to make it to the next meeting or get back to work.

**BONUS STEP** (I know Gen Y and Z readers are going to hate me for this part)

Ban technology from your meetings.  The only person permitted to use technology of any kind should be the one presenting.  For all of those tapping away on their tablet, laptop, cell phone, know that your professional stock is dropping with every tap.  The studies are clear, and the idea that you are “multi-tasking”  confirms the point.  Multi-tasking is an unproductive folly that many of us try and wear as a badge.  Unfortunately, it disengages us from the meeting, and our valuable contributions might go unspoken.

To validate this theory, I scheduled a three-day strategy meeting with resources being flown in from around the world.  The meeting was high-cost, and I needed the value to exceed those costs.  I noticed several of our most knowledgeable team members disengaged in previous meetings as they “took notes” on their laptop.  I suspected they had more to contribute and I needed to remove the barrier.  I sent two emails in preparation for the meeting.  The first was a detailed agenda.  The second email contained two articles on the effects of multi-tasking and the rules for the meeting.  Specifically, no technology was allowed during our discussion times.  I ordered everyone a personal journal for note taking and handed them out on the first day.

The initial response was shock and awe, but the results were amazing.  It might have been the best three-day strategy session I have seen in many years.  The engagement was up, and the result was a better product, a better process, and better clarity.

Technology is not the problem.  It is merely the opportunity for distraction.  Removing this potential distraction adds value to your meetings.