I’ve been thinking about natural leadership lately. Typically, when people think of leadership, they think of a direct manager. This person evaluates your performance reviews, and can assign you tasks. Natural leadership doesn’t require any title or powers beyond being a person who wants to better their team.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen by those wanting to move into leadership is trying to manage like a true ‘boss’. First, they try and give orders to their peers. Next, their peers push back. Then, a toxic loop is created. The team lead gets frustrated and tries to tighten their grip on their new powers, yet their team respects them even less.
However, natural leadership is a different game. This style actually works. It’s about becoming a role model for people on the team and beyond your own department or organization. What if you can make five or ten other people better through mentorship and guidance? Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not about gathering high fives or accolades.
By unselfishly giving your time to make others around you better, you become a trusted ally and resource.
Mentorship, inclusion, and development are the keys to becoming a natural leader.
Anyone who wants to move into management. Mentorship is the first step to being good at managing people. You have to learn how to give constructive feedback, be patient when someone is learning something new, and be generous with your time.
There are a lot of writings about mentorship, and your style should change depending on the person and the role you’re in. However, the broad qualities of a good mentor are:
- Making time and resources available to your mentee
- Developing a trusting relationship
- Setting stretch goals and challenges
- Constructive, actionable feedback
- Being positive and uplifting
Even if you’re not an official team lead, you have the opportunity to display natural leadership by becoming a mentor to new team members.
Fostering an inclusive atmosphere for other team members, new and old, and creating and deepening social connections at a company is crucial to creating a thriving environment.
Beyond the social aspect, however, creating an inclusive environment allows for a new or less senior team member to feel comfortable speaking up.
A few ideas for inclusion, as well as pitfalls, below.
Critically, make sure that there’s a variety of activities. Someone who doesn’t drink is going to feel excluded if every team bonding event is at a bar. After work activities are tough for parents and pet owners, so definitely do not make those mandatory or guilt them if they can’t attend. A true team bonding activity is part of the job, and should be done during work hours.
Also, only do 1:1 discussion, team hangouts, or office wide groups when it’s a company event. Picking and choosing certain people to attend events creates cliques. This worsens the culture!
Introduce yourself to new office members and make introductions to others, and ask how you can help
A good morning goes a long way. The morose way some people trudge into work is depressing! Ask someone to grab coffee or take a walk around the block and get to know them. We have a buddy system. Every new hire gets a buddy from a different department to be a go-to for those new employee questions.
I find that it takes a few times offering someone help until they’re actually comfortable asking you for that help!
Invite people who are quieter in team meetings and new team members to voice their opinion
When someone is new to a company, they feel they don’t enough to speak up. However, they are looking at problems with fresh eyes. That feedback is very valuable! Explicitly inviting them to speak up in a meeting, or even asking them what they learned working at other companies can go a long way to making a new team member feel more comfortable stepping into a new team. They understand that their opinions are valuable, and that it’s an environment that welcomes feedback.
As a team lead, other leadership also will be relying on you to keep your ear to the ground and understand what’s missing, either in team culture or training and education for the role. It may be petitioning for attending a conference, setting up learning workshops in the office, or even starting with asking for a budget for development activities. Maybe it’s setting up a slack channel with a book club or an employee resource group.
This is where getting to know your team members outside of the transactional day-to-day is important. You can become an advocate for their growth within the company if they trust you with their ambitions and goals.
As you see, none of this requires explicit powers or has anything to do with hiring or firing. Natural leadership requires from you is the desire to make those around you better. People respond well to authenticity.