3 Ways to Lead Within Intimate Proximity When They’re Not on Your Team

Being an effective leader is a function of how well you’re able to influence outcomes, not the number of direct reports you have in your organization chart. There are too many poor leaders who complain that their inability to affect change is due to their lack of direct control over those who would have to do the work. They feel that if they can’t make people “accountable”, they’ll never get good results out of them.

While the Intimate Proximity leader loves to have a team to call his or her own, he or she also has the ability to lead those outside of their direct command. In fact, I’ve found it even more satisfying when someone outside of my team thanks me for the leadership that I’ve shown them. They followed because they wanted to, not because they had to.

I would like to present you with three models where you can effectively lead those over whom you have no direct control. In each, those being influenced will have an opportunity to win while you are winning as well. In the first, you are letting those you are leading make the bigger win. In the second, you are enabling everyone to get a sense of accomplishment, more or less. In the last, you’ll make other people do what you want them to do, but they’ll be happy to do it again later.

Let The Other Guy Be The Hero (You WIN and then I’ll win, too)

As an optimist, I’m thoroughly convinced that most people want to do a good job. In my mind, this theory applies even more so for those who have chosen a job in the customer service field. These people have decided that they would like to spend their day helping others. In leading customer service folks, I’ve decided to simply let them do what they’d love to do: help me.

After having spent many years working with internal customer service people, I’ve learned how much it means to them when they have discovered that they really helped someone out. When they’ve “saved the day”, they gush to their co-workers, their boss, and their family. This is an intrinsic motivator for this type of employee.

Here’s a situation that many of us have run into: the airline has overbooked your flight and you’re standing at the gate amongst lots of unhappy non-fliers who need to get to the same destination that you do. When they ask for volunteers, I’m the first in line at the standing orders of my wife, Michelle. (Huh?! Am I really a volunteer, then?) I recognize that the gate agents are in a tough spot and they typically will have to brave an undue barrage of complaints and whining from grumpy travellers. I will not be one of those.

Instead, I start off by telling them, “I think you’re going to be a hero today!” I then begin to explain that my wife has told me that I should be the first to volunteer to be bumped on all of my return flights whenever the opportunity comes up. She’s learned that the airlines usually provide ticket vouchers that we’ve subsequently used for family vacations and those are always enjoyable. “So,“, I continue, “you have such a great opportunity to really make my day by putting me on another flight so I can bring a ticket voucher home to my wife. She and my girls will love it!” Invariably, I get a good ticket and a few other niceties for my trouble.

Even though I will be the recipient of a valuable ticket, I have made the situation all about the gate agent. This entire interchange is about how I can help them in getting to “I really helped someone out today!” In their minds, they will have won what they’ve wanted out of their job, but I will have won, too.

Make An Impromptu Team (Let’s both WIN!)

Teams are, at their most basic, a collection of people organized around a common goal. Since this does not require a direct reporting configuration, why not make up an impromptu team to tackle a specific problem? Your job, as an Intimate Proximity leader, will be to organize activities to not only meet the goal but to give each member of the team a sense of accomplishment in their day.

One of the key benefits of an impromptu team is that the team’s focus can be on a specific problem as opposed to a vague set of long-term goals. Plus, without a strict organization chart mandate, the team can feel as democratic as you can make it. The members are there for results, not just to “please the boss.”

At one company where I worked, we needed to move my manufacturing line from one floor of the building to the one below. As the newly appointed manager, it was my job to oversee all aspects of the production line. However, none of my engineers, technicians, or associates had “dis-assemble, re-assemble, and improve the line” in their job descriptions. Since I’m one of those “take charge” types, my first response was to plan out the entire move and hand out responsibilities to everyone. As long as everyone followed my instructions, I reasoned, the move should get accomplished quickly. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The engineers tried to follow my instructions to the letter even though they didn’t really meet our manufacturing needs. The technicians wanted to improve how they did their work, but the engineers were insistent on maintaining control of the assembly flow. The associates were given some instructions by the cell leader but, once accomplished, did their best to stay out of the technician-engineer fights. In short, we had a hot mess.

After gathering the group together to call a time-out, I listened to their hearty complaints. No one was getting along and just about everyone was frustrated. After hearing them out, I quietly announced to my team that “we have problems, but we aren’t the problem.” I wanted us to get back on focusing on the problem for the day: move and improve the line. This was not about who was in charge and who had the authority to tell others what to do. It was all about moving and improving our line.

I changed our focus so that we could stand shoulder to shoulder as peers to work through the issue. My initial mistake was in attempting to handle it myself and then just give them orders.

This time, I focused on demonstrating deference to the experienced workers. I said to our most senior technician, “You probably already know how to fix this problem. Please help me understand what we need to do.” I kept this line of questioning up for all of the employees and pretty soon, everyone was offering up ideas.

It was no longer important who had or didn’t have status. The ideas which had been sitting dormant out of frustration or repression were released. As Nobel-laureate Linus Pauling put it, “The best way to get a good idea is to get LOTS of ideas." The ideas which won and were implemented were based upon the strength of the idea and others’ support.

After that, we moved and dramatically improved our manufacturing line at a pace we couldn’t have predicted. The whole incident became a bonding point and a fond memory for us all years down the road.

Make ‘Em Do What You Want (You’ll win, but I’ll WIN bigger!)

While our first model involved letting people help you and the second focused on enabling people to accomplish your goals, this last model is about making people do what you want. However, do not for a moment think this involves any strong arm techniques. Never treat anyone poorly if you expect them to want to help you later on.

To make people do what you want and ensure that they’ll be willing to do it again later, you’ll need to negotiate with them. Negotiations involve skillful and purposeful give and take based upon the other person’s motivations and your ability to control the outcome.

When my wife needed a new car, she had stopped by the car dealership in her old car to look around for what she’d like. The salesman was more than happy to show Michelle her heart’s desire and make a “great” offer on her trade-in. He was even so helpful as to write out the entire contract that we need only sign to take possession of her dream car. She called me to stop by after work for my thoughts. I drove to the dealership and thanked the salesman for his work but said we’d have to go home to discuss the matter. I promised we’d return in two days.

I set out researching the market price for Michelle’s dream car, her trade-in, and even rules and rates for the average car sales commission. The price she got for her car was only slightly higher than the going market price, the actual trade-in value was almost twice what was offered, and it was the right time of the month for sales quotas to kick in.

When I returned to dealership, I opened my volley by thanking the salesman for helping my wife find the right car for her. It really means so much to her and, therefore, me. Next, I let him know how much I could afford to spend since I had to scrape together the funds. (I’m convinced that unless you’re infinitely wealthy, you’ll always have to scrape your funds.) As we were settling on the price, I knew that he was calculating in his incredible low-ball trade-in offer. He filled out the entire contract and when we got to the trade-in portion, I casually let him know that I decided to take care of it on my own; I was looking forward to my first time selling a car. Since he was already far down this path and I made it clear that I had to take off for a meeting, we filled out the rest of the contract, and I signed it.

I helped him get his commission on the decent car sales price but I won bigger on getting a fantastic deal on a great car. Later that evening, my wife’s gratitude threw the whole win over the top. Months later, we still get notes from the salesman asking how we’re enjoying the car.

To learn more specifics on my many negotiation techniques, please read Negotiating Within Intimate Proximity.

You’re Winning When They Want to Follow

While I’ve found it very rewarding leading my own team of direct reports, I’ve found it so much more satisfying when those who never had to follow me did so because they wanted to. The Intimate Proximity leader will rely on understanding what motivates the object of their leadership and discovering ways to make the leadership transaction a win-win scenario. You will know that you’ve become the leader you wanted to be when those you’ve led thank you and would gladly do it all again.