Leadership & motivation – how to support others and lead by example
by Amy Marsden
There are many definitions of “leadership”; “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation”; “the state or position of being a leader”; or, “the power or ability to lead other people”. Who are leaders? Assistants are not the typically the first group of people which spring to mind when you think of leaders – in our roles we are often instructed and sometimes considered subordinate by outsiders. Of course, within the profession we know that this is far from the truth, and the changing nature of our field heavily relies on our ability to lead and motivate others, driving results, subtly influencing change behind the scenes.
Anyone can be a leader. You do not have to be a manager, or in a position of hierarchical power to lead. One of the easiest ways for assistants to lead is to “lead by example”. Intrinsically linked to positive leadership is the ability to motivate others, and double standards or a “do as I say, not as I do” approach is bound to have a negative effect on energy levels and morale. Strong leaders think strategically and have a clear big picture vision, are supportive characters who nurture relationships and above all are effective communicators. These are all traits which good EAs/PAs possess. Below are some basic suggestions of how you can lead by your conduct and motivate others:
- Lead through planning and information sharing. Assistants are natural leaders when it comes to thinking ahead; get dates in diaries early, create briefing packs, be proactive in asking for information upfront to keep colleagues/teams informed and explain why this is important. Encourage the people you liaise with to keep, what seem like distant future projects, on their radar and direct their attention to lead efforts.
- Link your actions to company initiatives or align your work with a shared vision; if your company is trying to improve cost efficiency, reduce waste in your own work environment, remind your boss to try and use public transport, draft a memo about why it is helpful to take advantage of advanced train fares etc. Uphold company objectives/credos, be a shining example of your organisation’s professional standards.
- Guide and support others by encouraging team work and team efforts. Demonstrate that a collective and collaborative effort is more effective than trying to amalgamate separate and disjointed operations. Offer to assist with a project, offer to take minutes at meetings and follow up on actions, schedule catch-ups and chase status updates for circulation.
- Be kind, polite and always show respect. Office tensions can sometimes run high (especially at the top of the chain), but by remaining calm and relaxed you can try to encourage others to do the same. Refrain from exchanging cross words, and should you come up against an issue, be confident enough to address it in person in a polite yet assertive manner. Forgive your colleagues for the times that you end up on the receiving end of their bad mood or stress, move on and do not hold grudges.
- Build and maintain relationships; take the time to get to know the people you deal with regularly, take an interest in what they do and how their role fits into the overall picture of the organisation. You never know when you may need somebody to cover your phone for an hour or two, or when you may need to ask for a one hour turnaround on a document – but never ask something of a colleague that you would not be prepared to do yourself. Lead a supportive and social culture, build rapport.
- Lead in the way that you communicate by upholding some basic rules – if it takes longer to type than to say, pick up the phone! Go over to your colleagues desks instead of clogging up their inbox. We are all aware of how many hours are wasted going back and forth via E-mail. Hopefully your face to face approach will rub-off on other members of staff.
- Be honest and clear. Leaders never under deliver, primarily because they manage expectations. If a task you are given is unachievable, be honest that this is the case, offer an alternative time frame and suggest other ways to move forward. Honesty commands respect. Be clear in your instructions or ask for clarity when given ambiguous instructions – this can encourage the people you work with to refine their own objectives before handing out vague directives.
- Lead by listening. Those who shout the loudest go unheard. Listen to your colleagues before you speak and do not interrupt others. Manners have been known to be contagious!