How to Lead When YouÕre Not in Charge

You can build a positive workplace culture even if you're not the boss.

BY MEGHAN MELLINGER LIFE June 25, 2015

The only thing I am the boss of is a jar of Nutella. (The big jar, not the small one.)

Maybe you’re like me—you’ve had some leadership roles and some supervisor experience, but you aren’t in charge of a flock of underlings typing frantically from their cubicles.

You may not be the one in charge at your workplace, church or other group, and you certainly can’t control whoever is, but you can still make an impact no matter your position.

Cultivate Relationships

Get to know the name of your receptionist’s kids. Go out to lunch with your cubicle/office neighbor. Ask people how their weekend was. Out of the seven days in a week, you’re spending at least five days with your co-workers. Think about it: do you spend 40 hours every week with even your best friends? Use those 40 hours a week to invest in the lives of those whom you spend so much of your life with.

Have Conversations In-Person

Think twice before you hit “send” on your email. Has something been miscommunicated or misinterpreted? Is this a conversation that would be more efficient in-person? Instead of getting caught in a long email chain, get out of your chair and go talk in person (or at least pick up the phone). Email may seem faster, but taking the time to talk in person and foster the relationship gets the job done well.

Have a Sense of Humor

Low office morale is like being in a constant state of seasonal depression. So don’t be afraid to be the office sunshine. Joke a little, tease a little, maybe even prank a little. Seek out (appropriate) opportunities to transform your co-workers’ frowns and trust me, they’ll appreciate you for it. Life is too short not to laugh a little.

Confront Conflict Well

If Ethel keeps stealing your bologna and cheese sandwiches from the communal fridge every day, don’t complain to everyone but Ethel. If there’s a problem, exercise the biblical principle of addressing the person with whom you have a problem with first. Make every effort to listen, seek understanding, speak the truth in love and make amends. If the problem persists, bring in a boss or professional mediator. Be the person that seeks to resolve conflict well, not stir it up or let it fester.

Don’t Gossip

Did you see what Ethel is wearing today? Did you hear what George did last Friday night? If you find your conversations are spoken primarily in whispers, you should probably change topics. You won’t be able to positively impact your workplace if you are talking negatively about everyone who contributes to the culture.

Stay Calm

Has something sent you full-speed-ahead into Hulk-in-the-workplace mode? Don’t work or react out of anger or frustration. Don’t respond to that snarky email with an even snarkier reply. Take a moment (or an evening), squeeze a stress ball, cool off and respond appropriately. A calm word really does turn away wrath.

Build Up, Don’t Tear Down

Happy workers are valued workers. You may not be giving your co-workers their performance evaluations, but you can encourage and support them. Bring them flowers. Leave them a nice note. Treat them to lunch. Share your gratitude and say “thank you.” Let them know how much you personally value them. Build up those around you—don’t tear them down.

Monitor Negativity

Complaining about your job and all that it entails by the water cooler or over lunch may seem like a rite of passage, but venting is one thing and constant negativity is another. No workplace is ever without its problems, but wallowing in chronic negativity makes any situation seem dire and unbearable. Know when to vent (and who to vent to) and when to change the subject.

Admit Your Wrongs

As much as I hate to admit it, I make mistakes. Whether it’s an email with a typo or a miscalculation of numbers on a report, we all mess up because we’re all flawed beings. Admit when you’ve done something wrong. Provide a solution when you can. Don’t ever be too big to apologize. People will respect you more for it.

You may not be the boss at your job, but you can be a builder of culture in your workplace for the better. Your attitude, work ethic and joy may prove so contagious that you’ll have others coming to build alongside you.

Meghan Mellinger

MEGHAN MELLINGER

Meghan Mellinger writes (about singleness), laughs (about everything), photographs (everything), and worships (only God). You can check out her humorous ramblings at meghanmellinger.com.

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