The only difference between you and your colleagues is that you're in charge.
Does this sound like a job you'd want?
You'll be managing a diverse group of people from a variety of departments. They each have different areas of expertise and different ways of getting work done. The people don't report to you, and you'll have little to no authority over directing their performance. However, you'll be held accountable for the team's output. To accomplish the team's goals, you'll be expected, among other things, to motivate, facilitate, encourage, communicate effectively, build trust, and resolve conflict.
This doesn't sound like a lot of fun, does it?
When leading a team of your peers, these are typical challenges.
Leadership is a complex subject. There are visionary leaders, empowering leaders, charismatic leaders, and values-based leaders. For each of these styles, there are situations where that style is and is not effective. However, the one thing that traditional leaders can usually rely on, regardless of their style or situation, is legitimate power. When things get tough, a traditional leader has the status and position to demand how work is done.
But when you're in charge of a team of your peers, your level of authority is often nonexistent. You might have as little status as the person to whom the work has been given – but is that enough to lead what is essentially a horizontal collaboration?
To lead a multifunctional peer group, you must have all the characteristics of great leaders – and then some. Here are the key skills you'll need to succeed.
Learn to lead discussions and proactively manage different personalities. You never know what past experiences – good and bad – team members have had with one another.
Whatever the history, your role as leader starts by setting a positive foundation for the team's interactions:
Leaders who give power to others can be very influential and motivating. When leaders use their power to help others accomplish great things, people often want to work very hard for them.
When you empower someone, you're essentially saying that you trust that person. When people feel trusted, they may naturally want to take on more responsibility for the outcome, because they'll share in the spotlight when success is achieved.
Empowerment, then, is a great motivator, and it can be used to recognize the efforts of team members. When leading your peers, be creative with reward and recognition – sometimes assigning a task or granting a level of authority can serve as a very effective reward.
Beyond this, work hard to motivate the people you're working with and, in particular, give praise wherever it's due.
Rules, regulations and a heavy-handed approach can cause resentment and non-compliance in a team of peers. Use discretion, and learn to adapt to the changing environment – this can be critical.
You won't always be the expert, and you won't always know what to do. With a flexible leadership style, you can often deal with changing circumstances without compromising your leadership role. If you rely on a rigid structure and style, you may find yourself challenged often, and you may waste your energy fighting interpersonal battles instead of accomplishing goals.
Essentially, you need to help your team adjust to changes in direction, circumstance, and priority. Whenever you get a cross-section of people working together, there can be times of ambiguity and uncertainty. When you're open to change, your team will see that, and they'll be more likely to also accept change.
Few teams would get very far without goals. Certainly you need goals to point you in the right direction and to evaluate performance. When you bring together a diverse set of people, having a clear direction is even more essential.
All team members will likely have their own perspectives. These could lead your team down very different paths – if there's no central direction to follow. Different paths can also cause conflict around resources and priorities.
You can avoid many of these difficulties with clear goal setting that's based on agreed and valuable objectives. It's much easier to keep people working together effectively if objectives are clear, if it's obvious how the team's output will help its customer, and if disputes are resolved by referring to the team's goals.
From then on, it's important that you develop an implementation plan and remain focused on your targets.
Each team member usually has his or her own regular job to do in addition to the team's specific tasks. This means that commitment to your team may be weakened from many directions. As the leader, and the one who is ultimately accountable, concentrate on getting the support and resources your team needs to do the job well.
Focus on these three key areas:
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