Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal development, personal productivity, or career/entrepreneurship book.
One of the biggest struggles I had at my previous job was finding ways to get the project results I needed with very little authority to do many of the things I needed to do. I had a lot of ways of coping with this: acting like a leader, cajoling people, offering compliments and being a team player, and so on. I didn’t have the authority to actually order people to do things – instead, I had to find other ways to get people to do their part in projects.
This is a common problem that people face when they’re rising through the ranks in an office environment. People on the rise are essentially put in charge of projects where they simply don’t have the authority to make people do their part. Instead, they have to show off their other skills to make the project come to fruition – and, quite often, the people that show off these skills are the ones that rise to the top and further their career.
This is the exact situation addressed by Tom Kendrick’s book Results Without Authority. How can you take charge of a situation if you’re not the one in charge? How can you be a leader without the leader’s title? The tactics and skills behind this are essential for achieving the success many of us want in our careers and in our personal lives.
Control of Projects
Any project that you’re charged with, whether you have any authority or not, can be managed using three basic ideas: process, influence, and metrics. Process basically means setting up clear guidelines about what needs to be done for each person. Influence refers to the ability to convince people to participate through communication, listening, and motivation – letting the person know what’s in it for them. Metrics means keeping track of the progress of the project and, sometimes, the contributions of the various members. A person without authority can still take hold of all of these aspects and make things happen.
Control Through Process
Every project has problems. How will we handle these problems? That’s really the question here, and the person that comes up with reasonable general solutions for the problems that a project will face will exert a lot of control on the project. If you give others a basic path to follow, it becomes much easier for them to accomplish what they need to do and they will often naturally go along with the path if it’s clear. Knowing this – and being heavily involved in developing the project’s processes – can enable you to exert a ton of leadership over the project without having authority, because you’re essentially working to make everyone’s jobs easier by developing paths for them to follow.
A great example of this occurred recently on the church council that I participate on. I was charged with the general project of revising the church’s constitution, and it was up to me to pull together the help and other things I needed to make it happen. The biggest step wasn’t the work that I had to do in rewriting constitution pieces – instead, it was setting up clear procedures for others to follow when I needed their help. I spent time explaining exactly what I needed from others, and because I made their process clear, they were much happier to help. In the end, this made the project a success.
Control Through Influence
People naturally tend to follow the leader. The question is how do you become the leader in a group situation where there is no predisposed leader? The answers are pretty straightforward. Communicate clearly with everyone involved. Lead by example. Complement people on good work. Give credit where credit is due. Doing these things over and over again will help you naturally become a leader within the project, as people will come to you naturally with both their successes and their problems.
Control Through Project Metrics
Another useful way of taking control of a project is by setting up metrics to measure not only the progress of the project, but the contributions of people to the project. Metrics make it clear what parts of the project are going well and which ones are not, and it also makes it clear which people are pulling their weight and which ones are not. Kendrick offers a lot of advice here on setting up useful metrics, but they mostly boil down to clarity (stating exactly what you’re keeping track of and how) and consistency (tracking them regularly and fairly and sharing the metrics regularly, too).
Beginning Control Through Project Initiation
If you want to establish yourself as the leader of the project, the best place to start is right at the beginning. Step up immediately and be the person that collects ideas and suggestions on how to start. Compliment good ideas and have intelligent discussions about ideas that don’t fit as well. Most of all, be the person who’s willing to keep track and organize all of these ideas, melding them together into a single project. This takes extra work, no doubt, but by stepping up to the plate, you’re showing yourself to be a leader.
Building Control Through Project Planning
Once the objectives of the project are clear, it’s time to start setting up the nitty gritty of the project. Develop the structure yourself and make the project metrics and processes clear, but let people be involved in polishing them before you get going. It doesn’t matter who’s nominally in charge of the project – the real leader is the person that comes up with the plan and makes it possible for everyone to execute their part. One key part here is to develop good processes so that people know what they’re doing when the project gets rolling.
Maintaining Control During Project Execution
Along the way, you can keep control of the project by keeping tabs on the project metrics (which lets you – and everyone – know how the project is going) and also communicating clearly with everyone as much as possible. Give out compliments for good work along the way. Make it clear to everyone how they’re doing. Celebrate any milestones you reach. Again, it’s up to you to make these things happen if you want to remain the leader of the project.
Tracking and Monitoring for Project Control
One key part of any successful project is that you’re able to quickly able to summarize where the project is, because there are many, many situations where such summaries are needed: meetings, conference calls, changes in upper management, changes in sponsorship, and so on. If you’re the person in charge of monitoring the progress of the project, you’re the natural person to be able to deliver such comments – and thus reinforce your position as leader. This means it’s very important to maintain a summary of your project and be ready and able to deliver it when it’s needed.
Enhancing Overall Control Through Project Closure
When a project closes, the best thing you can do to continue your status as leader is to give credit where it’s due. Make it clear to management and others around you that individual team members did exceptional work. Be able and willing to point out exactly what they did to make the project succeed on an individual basis. Doing this makes people much more willing to follow your lead the next time a project comes around.
Is Results Without Authority Worth Reading?
This book is essential reading for anyone who works in a team environment, whether in the workplace or in other group settings (like a community group). It’s loaded with good ideas for making things happen in a group if you’re not the person in charge of the group.
Given that, there are some challenges with this book. Most of the time, Kendrick assumes that you’re working in a very structured corporate environment. He talks a lot about processes and other things that are intrinsic to large bureaucracies but often don’t apply in smaller organizations and community organizations. As a result, there are many times where basic principles of natural leadership are overshadowed by the specifics of bureaucracy. To really get the juice out of this book, you have to be willing to peel back some of the bureaucracy-speak and see what the real message behind the curtain is.
If you can do that, Results Without Authority has a ton to teach about how to be a leader in any situation, because, in the end, that’s what this book is about – how to be a leader.