Driving Change without Authority Part I

Sky-high leadershipIt’s easy to get things done when you’re in charge. Hell, you’re the boss, it should be easy to get things done. But, what if you’re a gear in the corporate cog? No direct reports, just colleagues and higher ups. How in the world are you supposed to make an impact?

One of the most valuable things that my work experience has taught me is negotiating that delicate balance of getting people (who in all honesty have no real reason to help you) to help you.

Being able to effect change without actual power is an important life skill, not taught in the hallowed halls of Hahvahd.

1) Ain’t gonna be taught

Let’s face it. Being in a classroom is like getting your intellect massaged and stimulated. Your mind absorbs great abstract notions, some concrete facts and a handful of plug-and-chug procedures. You learn lots of great things, like how to think (maybe), what to think about (perhaps), and when to think (hm).

Unfortunately, the nuances of social interaction are always going to get skipped over. Who really learns how to interact with peers and superiors in your lecture classroom (asides from what not to do)?

2) Might get a taste of it in your extracurriculars

I first rammed my head into this issue when I had leadership positions in student organizations. Student organizations are great opportunities to dabble in horrendously inefficient organizations. :) Even, when you have so-called “power” invested in you by chosen ones (upper classmen & dinos), you might not actually have any “power” over others lower in supposed rank than you.

In the real world, everyone at least has some incentive to do their jobs, if only because of the fear of getting fired. In the Harvard extracurricular scene, few people are actually committed to doing their job (and then some) for their given organization. Students get laazy, get distracted, are juggling around too many responsibilities, let their obligations fall through the cracks etc. etc. Overall, unless you’re paying students, you can’t necessarily rely on them.

The biggest lesson I learned from my time in EC leadership was how to get people to do the stuff they got delegated. Sometimes, this means being that annoying person who sends that annoying email, or setting up a lunch to see if there’s anything extraordinary going on, or sending that second annoying follow up email, or pleading / begging / bribing with cookies from the dining hall. In short, fun times. Imagine a dictatorship in a world where no one can possibly die.

3) You will get a taste of it in the Real World

In some sort of non-academic environment where you have bosses, subordinates and colleagues, you’ll be expected to do “make an impact” and “drive change.” Or else, that promotion will go to your colleague, or your job will go to an ambitious job seeker.

Perhaps, you’ll be in advertising or sales. You want so-and-so to buy your fantastic product! Obviously, you can’t force them to buy it, or fire them if they don’t buy it. You might be in fund raising, and call up Jane Doe on her cell phone right after dinner time. You might need to ask your lame boss for a reference or a recommendation.

4) So, how do I get this magical boost to my EQ?

Stay tuned for the next post….

(Meanwhile, think on, why in the world are you — someone in cyberspace who has no idea whom I am — giving my advice consideration? Who am I to you exactly?)

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