Be the leader in the room

Every project needs a leader. If you don’t assume leadership in your project or what you are responsible for, someone else will. That moment can easily float away. It usually happens when you are neglectful or haven’t dedicated the correct amount of time to the project. It can also happen when you lack confidence in what you are talking about. Mike Monteiro puts it this way, “I’d rather have a good designer who can present well than a great designer who can’t.” Lack of confidence can create doubt and once doubt gets a foothold into a project, the whole team will start to question it’s success.

I recently gave a presentation, How To Get Great Clients, Alignment First, Expectations Second, where I introduced the idea of having a “Planning Meeting.” This is a meeting after the Kickoff meeting and before wireframing begins. One of the reasons I am advocating this meeting is that from the start, it establishes you as the leader of the project. See, being a leader is not just about being confident and knowing what you are talking about, it’s also about timing, positioning and sometimes politics. I used to work for a CEO who was a master at the positioning and politics part. He had a keen ear for stress in a project and during our daily project updates, if he felt a project was stalled for some reason, he would invite himself to the client meeting. This would do a couple of things. One, it would make sure that his team was up to date and prepared, as to not embarrass oneself in front of the CEO. The other thing it did was create a sense of urgency for the client. The mere presence of the CEO on the call was sometimes enough to push the project forward. This is an important example, because the structure of your organization creates hierarchy and a resolution path if trouble occurs. If everyones the leader, how do you escalate the issue if the project starts to go south?

5 tips to establish yourself as a leader

  • Have an agenda. If you are going to a meeting, whether it’s your meeting, someone elses or an event you are going to, create some questions or points you want to ask or review.
  • You don’t have to be in charge. Leaders have many different roles. You don’t have to be in charge to be the leader. This often gets misunderstood. Supporting other team members in their roles is a great way to be looked to as a leader.
  • Reinforce process. There is no question that having a process is a pathway to a successful project. Being the person that keeps the project on track and guides the team back to the tasks at hand, is always a needed role.
  • Recognize success. Everyone likes to hear that they are doing well and it’s also healthy. Congratulating team members for a job well done, shows maturity and project awareness.
  • Share your experience. If something has been done before with questionable results, then the team should know about it. Your experience is valuable.

The most important trait of a leader is composure. Unfortunately, you don’t get a day off. You can’t treat everyone disrespectfully, get drunk with your coworkers and trash talk the clients and organization, then jump back into work mode. It just doesn’t work that way. Being known as a leader has less to do with demanding it, more to do with earning it and a lot to do with growing up.

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