Your boss is demanding your team finishes the project today, when there just isn’t enough time. The employee you supervise is asking you too many questions that you don’t have the answers to. Your client is demanding that your team reworks your project by tomorrow and it’s going to require working through the night to finish it.
All of these are stressful situations. Situations where there leadership isn’t taking action and no one is stepping up to take charge. If you step up, you’ll prove yourself as a leader who can handle difficult situations. And proving your leadership skills is a key to moving up to a leadership position in your career.
What elements make a great leader?
Professors Amy Cuddy and Dale Carney from Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School found that effective leaders tend to have a calm but assertive personality.
People look to the calmest person in the room to lead during a crisis.
Adopting confident body language is a great start to becoming calm as your body’s feedback loop will make you more confident and assertive.
Part of remaining calm is to stay in the moment. People who stress tend to think about what caused the situation in the past or how bad things will get in the future. Work on learning to focus on what’s both in your control and important.
In your control vs what is important
There are tasks that are in your control but not really all that important, such as what you eat for lunch and what color socks you’re wearing. Then there are things that are important but out of your control, like state of the economy. Finally there are things that are both in your control and are important. That is where you should focus your time, energy, and money. In stressful work situations these could be understanding what your boss wants from the project, getting your project done by the deadline, or training the new hire to succeed in the company.
We have limited willpower and cognition so focus on the tasks that will move your team closer to success.
Another strategy for staying calm is to practice staying in the moment:
Think about your toes. Wiggle your toes and feel them inside your shoes. Feel their weight. Where are they pointing. After that, your mind will have cleared a bit and you’ll be back in the moment.
Now you should be feeling calm, the first part of becoming an effective leader. But what about being assertive? You’ll need to make quick decisions with your team’s trust.
In the book The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane breaks down the ins and outs of charisma. It’s something that can be learned with practice and you can become more or less charismatic as the situation calls for it. People who are charismatic can lead people and inspire others to accomplish more than they think is possible.
She explains that there are four charismatic styles:
- Authority: based on perception of power through body language, titles, and status symbols
- Focus: based on listening to and understanding people
- Visionary: based on presenting confidence and belief in the cause
- Kindness: based on making people feel welcomed and accepted
My primary style is visionary, but yours may be different. If you are someone who lives in the moment, you may want to lead with focus charisma. If you like to help people open up their emotions, you may want to lead with kindness. If you are the most senior person in the room, you may want to lead with authority. If you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve in the future, you may want to lead with visionary charisma.
Use your charisma style to lead others.
People who use authority charisma are often already the defined leader in the situation. In business they are often the most senior person on the team and need to step up when they sense the team is going off track. In a business situation, people respond to authority charisma because it’s the social order.
- Getting the team focused: “Let’s get back to work.”
- Motivating employees: “Our annual reviews will depend on this project.”
- Delegating work efficiently: “Sharon, can you analyze the data and Jack, can you write the status report for the client?”
Leaders using focus charisma will keep the team focused on the task at hand. They may not be the designated leader by job title, but they will call the team’s attention to times when they go off track. They will also ask questions from team members like:
- Getting the team focused: “What do you think we should work on next?”
- Motivating employees: “The sooner we get this task done, the sooner we can go home.”
- Delegating work efficiently: “It looks like we have too many cooks in the kitchen. How do you all want to divide the work?”
Visionary leaders drive with their confidence of the future and desire to reach a goal. Elon Musk is one of the most notable visionary leaders today because he sees a future where space travel and solar power will move humanity forward. You don’t need to believe in going to Mars, but you can adopt a visionary leadership style with belief in reaching the goal:
- Getting the team focused: “We need to build and ship this product on time so it will make make our customers’ lives better.”
- Motivating employees: “If we do this task to the client’s specification, we’ll get more interesting projects from her in the future.”
- Delegating work efficiently: “Sarah, can you access and analyze the sales data to help the sales team understand the patterns. It will help them improve the sales pipeline.”
Kindness charisma makes employees feel good about their work. Many people like to work for leaders who use kindness because these leaders acknowledge emotions and make employees feel important. Leaders who use kindness will say the following:
- Getting the team focused: “This team works so well together. I’m impressed by your work ethic and how you all get excellent work done.”
- Motivating employees: “Working with you all is such a pleasure. If this project works out well, I’m sure we’ll get noticed for our excellent work.”
- Delegating work efficiently: “John, you do a great job with PowerPoint. Can you polish the final pitch deck?”
Be genuine with the style you choose to use and what you say to your team. Don’t use a style because you can manipulate people to do what you want. Be genuine and keep everyone’s best interest in mind. As you practice being a leader, you will also learn to move from one style to another. You’ll respond to the style of leadership your team needs at that moment and what will work best.
Demonstrating leadership early in your career is a great way to stand out when the time comes for a promotion. Leadership can be learned and you should practice when you have the chance. Take on side projects at work, request to train the new hires, ask your boss if you can take on some of the work she doesn’t want to do herself, and take every chance you can to lead in those tasks.
And when you’re the leader, stay calm, be assertive, and your team will follow you to success.
This article is part 2 in a series about building interpersonal skills for your career. Click on the links below to see the rest of the series:
Introduction: Feeling stuck on the corporate ladder? Maybe your interpersonal skills are holding you back?
Part 1: Body language – projecting confidence
Part 2: Leadership – inspire others
Part 3: Networking – more than LinkedIn