2 Key Questions a Leader Should Ask Themselves Before Leading
Sometimes we reach a point in our group, team, or organization where we want to identify an opportunity to step up and lead. Sometimes it may not be formal or permanent. It may be a passing thought, or a notion to help the current situation progress along for a short time. In any case, potential leadership is very thought provoking. Earlier in my career I would say that it reminds me of going out on a date for the first time, awkward and forced. As time has passed, I would say that it becomes natural and easy, sometimes making what would be an awkward situation one more bearable for all involved.
I joined a collegiate organization some time ago where I was required to complete multiple steps before induction. There were maybe a dozen steps to complete. Towards the end of this period of induction, I was randomly paired with a group of people. Among ourselves we had to develop a team complete with assigned jobs and self-prepared meetings. I feel that this was in a lot of ways a test, because in our first scheduled meeting, we all showed up having no idea what to do. While my group members and I sat around a table staring at each other and talking it became clear that there was a lack of leadership. A few members had left early, some other broke off and began talking about life in general, and some were scoffing about how poorly ran the organization was.
We were all in the dark. We had no clue what to do or what we were even meeting for aside from us understanding that it was a requirement for induction. Through this first painful meeting, I had gotten only one thing, someone had to make the next one less painful, assuming anyone even returned. I decided to take the position of facilitator and prepare for the next meeting, hoping that if nothing else we would have something to do besides gossip about politics.
Sometimes it takes being placed in an awkward situation with others before it is clear who the leader may be, and sometimes it will be surprising to see who that person is. Whether it is a blindly assembled group, or a department in an organization, there should be only a few unorganized gatherings before it becomes clear who the leader is. Here we look at some key questions to ask ourselves to determine if we have identified an opportunity to lead.
1. Do we have the functional or technical knowledge required to lead?
Having the functional knowledge to lead a group is a key question to ask yourself. It is not a black and white barrier that should direct whether you pursue a leadership role. It should, however, give you the direction that you should take if you do decide to pursue that leadership role. If you conclude that you do not have a lot of functional knowledge of the group that you want to lead, then we must understand this if we decide to push forward.
Function or technical knowledge is the boots-on-the-floor know how of getting a job done and demonstrating successful action against the task. A leader that has a load of technical knowledge and the skills related to successfully obtaining the goals will approach leading a team a bit differently than one who has little technical knowledge. To this leader I would suggest a teaching and mentoring strategy. A lot can be gained, and relationships can be developed by a leader who has knowledge to distribute among a group of peers.
A lack of functional or technical knowledge does not mean that we should avoid pursuing leadership. It should be a factor in your decision though, as opting to lead without having a broad span of knowledge of the tasks at hand does make the job more difficult. To the leader without technical knowledge, I would advise taking a learn together approach, and never shy away from the opportunity to learn from a team member. There is great value in allowing a team member the opportunity to teach you something.
In my case, I chose the latter approach. I knew that I had the ability to publicly speak, as well as research and present information that I had acquired, so I contacted my group and let them know as long as no one opposed it that I would have something prepared for us to review at our next meeting. After scheduling the day with everyone, I was nervous about what may happen.
2. Do we have proper relationships established with our team?
One of the most difficult situations that a leader can face is being thrust into a new team with the expectation of leading them. Success isn’t guaranteed, goals are not understood, and the people can sometimes be strangers. It is much more favorable to lead a team that you have already had the opportunity to develop relationships with. Developing relationships is one of the key tools of a leader. It is arguably one of the most important things that a leader can do, and the flavor of these relationships will often determine the level of success that a leader will experience.
To a leader that has had the opportunity to develop proper relationships with his team, I would suggest that he search those relationships and make certain that they are facilitating good communication as well as mutual respect. If these two qualities of a relationship aren’t present, then the leader should be doing things to foster the growth of them. Without these qualities in the relationships, success will be very difficult. If good communication and mutual respect are present, the ability to lead will be readily available and from here it is simply undertaking the task.
After being thrust into an environment with strangers, and attending a dry pointless meeting, I knew that we had to turn it around. It seemed clear that we were all good communicators that had adequate mutual respect; however, our little organization just required some leadership. In this informal situation, it was as simple as standing up and doing it. I didn’t believe it should be a forceful or delegatory thing, rather, I first communicated that I had done some research on how our group should be put together and suggested that if no one else had any material, that I be allowed to present what I had learned.
After playing a presentation that I had found on my chapter’s website, I outlined what I thought the meeting should include and led the discussion. I asked questions and listened to answers. As we continued and time passed, we all became more familiar with each other and felt exactly what it was that this challenge was about. This wasn’t some formal take-charge-and-conquer test, rather, it was a test of our ability to come together as a team and hold each other accountable to being team members.
The Take Away
I believe these are two key questions we should ask ourselves before we decide to venture into the idea of leadership in any situation. Regardless of our direction of thought, or where we end up after pondering all the information, I believe that the task of asking ourselves the questions better prepares us to lead. We can further analyze and break this down, however the idea itself is intended to spark the thinking that a potential leader should be doing before undertaking the task.
In some instances, we may decide that leadership in the current situation isn’t for us, or that there is someone better suited. To that I would say, even a leader knows when to follow. A good leader knows when to be led. It should not be taken as a failure when it becomes apparent that there is someone more qualified to lead a team than ourselves, rather, we should still fulfill our obligation to be team members and continue to strive to achieve the organizations goals, however big or small.
It is important as leaders that we continue to think about these things as we travel through life and come across different situations that require different things of us. It is important that leaders identify situations where we believe that our service as a leader will affect the outcome of the group for the better, and to allow ourselves to be a special part of the group, for the better of the group. There is no more fulfilling thing to be than a servant leader, and that will be a topic of future discussion.