Leading The Way When There Is No Leadership

Phew! Take a breath. I just picked a really big topic for what was meant to be a short blog!

The Vacuum of Leadership

What do you do when you are in a job where there is a vacuum of leadership? When your leaders are so MIA, that people don’t even show up for work and no one notices. When the shop has not been minded for so long that the shelves are empty and even the employees are starving!

This is what I’m going to talk about in my first blog after my book writing absence.

Take another deep breath. All right let’s get into this.

Identify immediately: Is this a transitional change or just how things are done?

If it’s how things are done, start looking ASAP for a new job, because eventually there will be a leader who comes in, makes changes, and chops the heck out of the place to find the fruit that hasn’t yet turned rotten, and that process is not going to be inspiring, encouraging, or promising for your career. In fact, if you wait that long, you will actually damage your reputation and standing. I know change is hard, and people really don’t like it – especially when it’s their job or career – but when the ship is sinking, don’t wait for all the lifeboats leave before you jump. This is the modern world. There are enough lifeboats and seats out there for you. Go pick a good one.

The way you lead when your leaders have abandoned ship is by taking a clue and going out to make your own path, decisions, and dreams happen. Take charge of your life; don’t let life charge you down. I’m sorry if this is the situation you are in, but in this case, the change will be transformational for the better. Pivot in the direction of your dreams.

The other scenario: You’re going through a transition. Maybe a bad transition. Maybe a long…really long transition. Maybe a really long, badly managed, soul-sucking, morale decimating transition. But transitions transition – hopefully to a new beginning – and in this you are presented with your opportunity to lead.

First, take stock of how you are feeling and if you have become part of the soul-sucking problem. It’s easy to become demoralized by change, or worse, no change. Figure out why you are feeling the way you are. Is it because everyone else seems down? Have you had some losses on the team you need to recover from? Whatever it is, make sure you separate your feelings from everyone else’s and their affect on you.

Next, accept, recognize and acknowledge whatever authentic emotions or issues you are dealing with. If it’s losing a leader you trusted, or a colleague on a project, or your opportunity for advancement, or simply your joy for coming into work – acknowledge, accept…then choose to move on.

As part of moving on, here are some positive and simple actions you can take, no matter what your level in the company.

One: Don’t buy into what you don’t know. Some people will hear that a speaker series is on hold, and make a leap that their department is being disassembled. Just because we don’t know doesn’t mean it’s bad. Stay positive, remind people of their value, and focus on the immediate work at hand.

Two: Drop off a handwritten note of appreciation at someone’s desk. Don’t email, though that’s a good thing too. Instead, use your personal or company stationary, or if appropriate a card, and leave it for someone to find in the morning at the start of their day. I have kept all my handwritten thank you notes and commendations over the years in folder. They meant a lot to me. The point is to recognize the value that another person is bringing, and that recognition, done in this kind of personal way, is usually unforgettable. If you are reading this now, I challenge you to do this for at least one person at your work site today. It doesn’t have to be a long note – one to two lines. Encouragement, recognition, feeling valued – these are priceless offerings toward employee engagement. And for the finance people out there, the ROI is unbeatable.

Three: Gather colleagues and do some  training or enrichment together. If your company doesn’t have any sponsored training that you can attend together, gather the troops and have a book club or magazine club and discuss the business. Sharing helps people connect and feel connected during transition periods that can be very isolating. Equally useful, stimulating the brain and lifting your head from the daily grind creates the space to think differently about problems, opportunities, and solutions.

Four: Build a team presentation. Work with your team to gather the materials you need to share the vision of your work, department, and group. Brainstorm what should go into this, and create a plan. This will be important to any new leadership, help them have a starting point in their assessments, and hopefully help them fine tune their vision for the team…or know that they should develop one. The key thing is giving everyone something productive to participate in. The magic is in remembering the joy of teamwork.

Five: Think about how to onboard new people. Whether it’s a person who has moved to your department, a new employee, or new leader, chances are they don’t know much about your company culture, project flow, or the DNA that makes you unique. The HR version of onboarding is not always useful and thorough in relation to the day-to-day job. Be gentle and patient. There’s a reason the new person is there—and it’s usually because someone important thought they were capable. Think about the things that would be useful to a person in that position. Is it a tour of the factory, workshop, or campus? A behind the scenes look at all the divisions with whom you work? A book on your legacy and company values?

Work with your team and put together an organized list of what might help the new person navigate the road ahead with a broader picture of how they fit into it. It will make the transition easier, and a lot more fun for everyone.

Six: Don’t ask permission. Seriously. Don’t bother. It’s waste of time when no one knows who is in charge. The best answer you will get is, “Let’s wait.” Instead, do any of the above, work on that project you’ve been putting off, network with those other leaders you haven’t seen in a while, and start connecting all the positive people and actions with each other. From that, the organization will grow healthy again. And whatever changes do happen, you and those you led, saved, or dragged along with you, will be several steps ahead.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference and guide the people toward the brighter path. Small efforts have powerful ripples. And eventually, everyone else will catch up. Trust me.