Supporting Your Leader
Countless articles, books and podcasts have been published recently on how to lead from the "2nd chair", or how to lead when you are not the CEO. Here are my tips after navigating both the lead position in a company to a supportive role in ministry on how to support your leader, which in turn, will allow you to flourish in your leadership potential.
1. Create a culture of no surprises - Over 20 years ago one of my leaders told me, and other staff, that "as long as there were no surprises we should not fear making a mistake. If you make a mistake you should eat crow while it's warm." I've tried to continue to use this principle throughout my career and I believe it is critically important in maintaining a leadership position when you are not the primary leader. Inevitably you will make a mistake so as soon as you do, let your leader know about it and what your plan is to resolve the problem. This helps minimize the impact of the mistake, and shows that you refuse to pass your messes on to someone else.
2. Communicate that you have time to help - In the healthcare industry we used to train staff to say "Do you need anything, I have time?". This question translates beautifully in the marketplace with your leader. The intention is not to create a culture where you are getting them Diet Coke's every day, but it creates and reinforces a culture that one of your primary roles is to ensure your leader succeeds. If you think that you can accomplish everything you want to accomplish but have your leader fail, you are wrong. The only way you succeed is ensuring that your leader succeeds along the way, which means developing an understanding that you have time to help them be successful. The majority of times you will find when you ask that question that they won't pass anything along, however after some time you will realize that you are being asked to do more important tasks and being invited in to decisions because you seem interested, and seemingly have time.
3. Develop agendas and updates for your regular meeting - I meet with my leader on a weekly basis and nearly 100% of the time I've developed between 4-10 things that are on my agenda and then pass those along via email prior to the meeting. It's an informal document, many times just a list of things in email, but it helps to foster a no surprise culture, and gives my leader time to process what we might be talking about. It keeps me aligned to the most important topics and when there is a larger issue at hand, allows me to highlight things we need to connect about in the future if we don't get to those items.
4. Clarify expectations and needs - When you are leading a large organization or a large group of people, too often decisions need to be made on the spot and the clarity is not always communicated perfectly. The best staff members instantly recognize when a gray area could derail progress or decisions and attempts to clarify the situation and decision. This is especially helpful when you come into a decision that you may somewhat disagree with. It is fine to push back, but out of the discussion there should be enough clarity to move the decision forward without countless discussions and clarifications. Stop in the moment and clarify in a respectful way.