You do not have to be a leader to lead. If you were wondering how to pay attention thanks to your skills and hard work, here is an opportunity that is right under your nose: gray area issues.
Gray area issues are everywhere in the workplace. Administrative coach Art Patty says gray areas are “the areas between functions where process, communication and coordination problems produce noise and friction.” These are issues that everyone is aware of, but no one has taken (or wants) responsibility for. If you take the initiative to deal with them, Patty says, it could change your career. “Do it right, and nurture your impact, strengthen your professional networks and find yourself involved in high-level leadership.”
Gray area issues are the things that drive you crazy in what might be a great job, great team or great company. Petty says, “It’s common for groups to get process flaws and attitudes as part of the landscape.”
“That’s how we do it here” or “Yes, we know, and when we have some time, we’ll fix it” are responses that are often heard to a new person pointing out a clear problem. “Everyone has their problems, their own priorities, and only Rarely is there money or resources devoted to these problems. Eventually, the subject becomes part of the landscape; no one really sees it anymore. And certainly, no one owns it.
Patty says there are probably opportunities for gray area issues around you. Look for situations like these:
- The ideas and talents of the corporate culture are tightly trapped in silos and rarely see the light of inter-functional collaboration
- Environments where everyone is busy running around doing something in an endless series of firefighting exercises
- Situations where there is a disconnect between the organization’s strategy and the actual work that takes place
- Definitions in which past mistakes are repeated over and over again
Make sure you are prepared to deal with issues that are not assigned directly to you. You will need to have a strong track record of success in your job and be up to date on the execution of your current projects. If you struggle to do your job, no one will trust you or approve of you taking on more.
You will need a strong network within the organization. Petty says, “Your success in helping your company rise to the level in troubled areas is directly related to your ability to get support from the right resources at the right time. You need a strong network and sufficient reliability to get support from people across this network.” Make sure you identify your main resources and stand in line before you ask permission to address the issue.
Make sure you have an explanation of how solving this problem will help advance the goals of your manager – and of the company as a whole. Petty again: “Few executives, including yours, want their team members to be advertised as independent across the organization on issues unrelated to their day jobs. However, the skilled gray area leader actively engages his boss and frames situations as an opportunity for them to achieve organizational problem solving.” Whoever succeeds is success.
Finally, be sure to give credit to anyone who helps you solve the problem. The best leaders are quick to recognize the team, instead of taking the credit for the success themselves. Management guru Peter Drucker said it best: “Leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And it’s not because they trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They do not think ‘I’. They think. “We”; they think “team.” They understand that their job is to make the team function.
Candice’s background includes human resources, recruitment, training and evaluation. She spent several years at a nationwide staffing company, serving employers at both beaches. Her writing on business, career and employment has appeared in the Florida Times Union, the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and 904 Magazine, as well as several national publications and websites. Candice is often quoted in the media on local labor market and employment issues.
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