We are long overdue for a change in the way we work. Even at companies that extol values such as inclusion and collaboration on their websites and breakroom walls, I hear a similar beleaguered sentiment echoing up and down the chain of command. Executives, managers, and front-line associates alike bemoan their less-than-productive relationships with colleagues in the midst of disruption and transformation.
The problem is, in times of stress, people in charge tend to fall back on familiar ways of managing, so change of this kind needs to start with each of us. Leading without authority is unavoidably becoming the twenty-first-century organizational model. Leading Without Authority is the first book to codify a new set of work rules for our new work world: a complete, holistic, and proven methodology for succeeding in a world in which the ability to lead without authority is an essential workplace competency. (Editor’s note: Ferrazzi will read from his book and answer your questions at an exclusive author event on Friday, May 29 at 2:30 p.m. ET. To register for this free event please click here.)
The solutions I prescribe call for a new workplace operating system that I call co-elevation. Simply defined, co-elevation is a mission-driven approach to collaborative problem-solving through fluid partnerships and self-organizing teams. When we co-elevate with one or more of our associates, we turn them into teammates. We enter into close co-creative relationships based on candid feedback and mutual accountability. With its guiding ethos of “going higher together,” co-elevation nurtures a generosity of spirit and a sense of commitment to our new teammates and our shared mission.
The resulting outcomes almost always exceed what could have been accomplished through regular channels within the org chart.
When we lead without authority, we consider all the people who may be critical to us achieving our goals. And we enlist them as members of our team. It’s a unique opportunity to set aside the limits imposed by the resources you control, and instead consider the impact you want to make.
But where to start? What’s the mission? How can you elevate it? Perhaps you’re in sales and want to redesign how you go to market by bringing the product and marketing folks onto your team. Or there’s some sort of friction point between your department and another group and your goal is to eliminate it, fixing what hurts most right now. Every company’s leadership needs its employees aiming as high as possible to create breakthrough solutions to meet new market pressures, and the only way to do this is to bring everyone who could contribute to your mission onto the team.
Here are some tips and best practices about how to get started co-elevating, how to build on early success, and how to best track and organize all your co-elevating teams.
Start where it’s easiest
Leading without authority doesn’t have to be hard. My advice, early on, is to find someone you think you’ll have a positive experience co-elevating with. Choose someone most likely to grasp the roughly outlined vision you think deserves your collective attention. Even better, I would encourage you to start building that co-elevating relationship before you need to. The more time you spend nurturing and building relationship ties with an associate you respect and think you may want to work with on something big, the easier it will be later to invite them to join you in taking on challenging and aspirational projects together.
Then shift your focus toward potential partners and new teammates who can help you to achieve positive momentum fast. Don’t waste too much time trying to convince resisters to join the fun. In our coaching of large-scale change, we find that when you build momentum with positive people first, the resisters tend to come around once they start seeing results.
Check with your hot button priority
Sometimes, you have no choice. You need to start building your team in the midst of a crisis, when everyone feels they’re behind the eight ball.
So what’s stressing you out? What’s keeping you up at night? What’s occupying your headspace? Where can you introduce the co-elevation conversation as a potential solution? You will likely find that the very urgency of the situation will help you forge the bonds necessary for a productive co-elevating relationship.
Look for those you admire and want to learn from
On any given day, we bump into extraordinary people who could up our game and make us better at achieving our goals. In the next project meeting, instead of checking email or pondering what you’ll say when it’s your turn to report, pay attention and take note of who speaks up with the most interesting insights. Is there a project you can imagine co-creating with someone else you admire, not just for the project’s impact, but for the learning experience or to deepen the relationship? Does someone have special knowledge or a unique background you could learn from? Do you see someone who is a diamond in the rough, someone you feel is being underutilized by the company, someone who might become really energized if you came to them with an idea? If you are going to initiate real breakthrough ideas, who would be an ideal partner for such a mission? Well, go get them on your team.
Co-elevating with team members who work remotely is a challenge. You have to work a little harder to connect with them. Use conference calls or video calls as a way to introduce yourself to people you want to get to know better. Follow up with them in an individual call or meeting so you can talk without an agenda. I can’t tell you how rare it is for a team member on a call to follow up with remote members of the team when it’s not required. Take that extra step, and you will stand out.
Identify someone you believe would benefit from your help
All of us work with people who could improve their performance with the right guidance or encouragement. If you are truly committed to a mission or project and you find that someone’s performance is holding the group back, why not do what any good leader would do and coach them? Take responsibility for making a positive difference in that person’s career so you can make a positive difference toward the project or mission at hand.
When you open channels for discussion, active collaboration, and mutual development, you’ll be surprised what can follow. Co-elevating with a teammate not only allows your team to achieve more; it will also help you grow in your own performance and alleviate your own pent-up frustration, which no one needs to hold on to.
Excerpted from Leading Without Authority, by Keith Ferrazzi with Noel Weyrich. Copyright © 2020 by Keith Ferrazzi with Noel Weyrich. Excerpted by permission of Currency. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.