Becoming the best crew member you can be turns you into a leader at every level

Jan 16, 2017 by Paul Ferdais

Let’s face it: everyone, except perhaps a dictator, has a boss. In a family, in work, sometimes in a relationship, and on and on. This means that the skill of leading up, across and down is an essential life skill to develop.

Normally when we hear the word leadership, the most common idea that comes to mind is leading those below us. However, since leadership is a choice and not a position, it’s absolutely possible to lead up and across as well. The way to do this is to understand that it’s our behavior that convinces others to follow.

It may seem like it’s highly unlikely to lead a boss or peers, but it’s important to do since most of a leader’s career will be spent in the middle somewhere before reaching the top.

A traditional mindset of leaders is to use power to get people to do things. With peers and bosses, this generally doesn’t work because we have no authority over them. To lead up and across, it’s crucial to build influence. The way to build influence is to build respect.

Helping others win instead of competing with them goes a long way in building respect. When they win, the organization wins. When the organization wins, we all win.

Building influence through respect takes time. Don’t expect to build respect and influence overnight. Influence is an ongoing process that takes time to grow.

The following behaviors are some of the most important that leaders can implement to build influence with those above, across and below:

  1. Become very good at your job, and credibility will follow. Credibility is the stepping stone to developing respect and influence. No one will believe or trust someone who doesn’t demonstrate that they know their job to a high degree.

The most influential people put in the effort to become really good in their role so when the time comes to make a suggestion they are seen as trustworthy and credible. Skipping this step of learning a job well can be detrimental to building credibility and therefore influence.

  1. Be willing to do jobs others are unwilling to do. Develop the “whatever it takes” mindset. Being seen as someone who is hard working, giving maximum effort, and willing to help with any task increases credibility and respect in the eyes of others.
  2. Be adaptable to the approach or style of others. Just because someone does something differently to get the same result doesn’t mean it’s wrong. This means being proactive instead of passive. It also means being open to learning a new way of thinking or behaving.
  3. Become a reliable go-to crew member. Team members — whether above, on the same level or below — will start to rely on you if you become indispensable. Reliance will build trust and influence.
  4. Be a lifelong learner. Be better today than yesterday by actively seeking out new knowledge. This isn’t limited to work. Be seen as someone who continually learns. When others have a question they will naturally turn to someone who has the answers — you.
  5. Listen. Take the time to talk less and listen more. When we listen, we demonstrate respect for those around us. Listening helps us build a greater perspective about an issue as we take in how others view it.

When these behaviors are put together – being good at what we do, having the “whatever it takes” mindset and being adaptable to different situations – we will grow respect in the eyes of others and the ability to influence our peers and bosses.

Leadership is a skill that must be continually developed. When we get to the top, it’s too late to learn to lead. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” Leading from the middle today allows us to practice and build the skills needed when we finally make it to the top job.

 

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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