Most people I meet in my work feel that they’re advancing against a rising tide. They’re inundated by a sea of unfinished work and shifting priorities.  And they feel overwhelmed by the deluge of new issues and problems they face every day.

My project management students tell me stories that will sound familiar to many:

  • Their attempts to plan a focused, productive week quickly turn into day after day of putting out fires. 
  • They’re pulled in so many different directions that almost nothing gets done. 
  • And they’re so busy and so often in crisis mode that there’s little opportunity to improve and refine processes and procedures that could make for fewer crises the next time around.

As one manager recently said:

“Senior management have learned by doing. They weren’t mentored, so they don’t know how to mentor others. There’s no coaching, no staff development – we’re just nose-to-the-grindstone all the time.”

I have a lot of sympathy for people in this situation. It’s VERY challenging to take control of the constant upheaval and disruption that seems to characterize our corporate culture today.

But… it has to be done. And there’s no point in waiting for someone to magically step in and solve your problems.

You need to become the leader that your team so desperately needs.

The Leader Who Had No Title

Doing so isn’t easy in today’s environment. And it can require a pretty big mindset shift.

But it’s so worth it. When you learn to act as a leader — even if you don’t have the title or the (official) power — you empower yourself to create the conditions that you AND your team need to succeed.

That means you’ll spend less time feeling upset, overwhelmed, or victimized by sudden changes in priorities, scope, or project specifications…

…and more time influencing the outcomes and actively problem-solving with your team and stakeholders.

I’ve seen the positive results that project managers and team members get when they step up to lead… so when I read Robin Sharma’s book The Leader Who Had No Title, it was a bit like preaching to the choir.

Sharma shares an acronym, IMAGE, that provides a wonderful set of principles for becoming a leader, even when you don’t have an official leadership role:

Innovation       Ask yourself how you can make today better than yesterday. What is one way you might boost your productivity?

Mastery           Tiny actions build to a cascade of successes over time. What are 5 things you can do today that will bring you closer to your goals?

Authenticity   Leaders believe in themselves even when others do not.  So believe in yourself, and act from a place of commitment rather than ego.  

Guts                 Leadership requires toughness and dedication. Be persistent, embrace discomfort, and don’t succumb to unwarranted criticism. Often criticism is a defensive reaction meant to protect people from changes — so be strong and follow your convictions.

Ethics               Leaders serve as an example for others, so acting ethically and with integrity is vital. As Sharma explains it, success emerges at the intersection of excellence and  honor.

Anybody in any role can choose to display and act on these principles.  And every time they do so, they are acting as leaders. 

That’s the essence of professional empowerment.  All you have to do is put it into practice. As Simon Sinek says, ”Be the leader you wish you had.”

So take a minute to reflect on your own role and behavior.  Have you been hiding behind the belief that “it is what it is and we cannot change it”?

If so, how can you exert your leadership influence to improve your team’s quality of life and your end user’s experience? 

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