Being Chief When You are Not (Always) In Charge

Being Chief is not about level or title—instead, it’s about choices. But the simple truth is, we live and work in a world with people of many different levels and titles, and where everyone has a boss. From the entry-level trainee, who seemingly reports to everyone, all the way up to the CEO (who reports to the board), everyone answers to someone. We don’t always have the ability to unilaterally choose what we want in the workplace. So, how can you succeed at being Chief when you are not in charge?

We’ve all been faced with situations that, despite our best efforts, involved decisions made against what we, ourselves, would have chosen. During these times, the best we can do is to remember the prayer first offered by American theologian Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. For the truly enlightened few, this may be enough.

For those interested a little more guidance, however, here are some tips that have worked for me as I learned to increase the impact I could have beyond the scope of a particular assignment:

Envision broadly – See the opportunity from beyond just your part of the organization.
Plan inclusively – Incorporate support groups in any strategy session.
Measure outside the lines – Keep track of support-group key measures and performance.
Shamelessly adopt – Find the best practices from peer groups. Adopt them, and recognize the originators.
Communicate consistently and consciously – Use words to connect.
Own it – See yourself as a Chief with responsibility across organization lines.
Live it – Make your values visible, in particular with regard to teamwork.
Assume the position – Always put yourself in your boss’s seat before

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you bring an issue or decision “up.” Bring the person in charge multiple options with pros and cons before you offer your recommendation.
Be empathic – Remember that you may be working for someone who is also not in charge, in that their word is not final. Have some empathy for your boss, too.

The good news is, more and more organizations realize that to stay competitive they need to decentralize decision making so those with the most first-hand knowledge are in charge on a particular issue.

Now I’d like to hear from you: How much would your team say they are in charge of?