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A personal leader is one who influences through opportunity by leveraging their expertise, knowledge, relationships, character, and vision.

Leading from the middle

By Dee Anne Bonebright

From Brief, July 28, 2004

Over the past few years, thoughts about leadership have changed. The old top-down idea that leaders are defined by position and title is giving way to the idea that we all show leadership in various ways.

Each individual makes a contribution to the organization's efforts, says Sarah Kolasa, a training coordinator for the Office of Human Resources.

"A personal leader is one who influences through opportunity by leveraging their expertise, knowledge, relationships, character, and vision," she explains. "Everyone's actions either help or hinder a change process. You don't need to be in a formal position to influence others."

Personal leaders influence in many directions: "upward" to their supervisors, across the organization to peers, and, if they play a supervisory role, "downward" to motivate and support staff.


Leading During Change
Friday, Sept. 10
9 p.m.-noon

Part of the Service Improvement Program through the Center for Human Resource Development. Facilitators include Sarah Kolasa. For more information or to sign up, see http://training.finop.umn.edu /SERVICESITE/SIP2b.html.

Michele Gross, a project manager for the new Enterprise Financial System Project, exemplifies leading from the middle. Gross recently recruited more than 130 people to help with the first phase of the financial system replacement project. She identified key people across campus, encouraged them to participate, and convinced their managers to contribute time and resources.

Influencing up

Influencing "up" to management can be the most challenging, according to both Kolasa and Gross.

In order to influence upward, you must first demonstrate commitment to fulfilling individual responsibilities and responsibilities to the team, recommends Kolasa.

"Looking at yourself and doing what it takes to grow, develop, and educate yourself is the first step," she says. She notes that influencing people in positions of authority requires you to examine the issues and attempt to understand multiple perspectives.

Gross emphasizes the importance of being able to respond to management's level of interest with appropriate, complete information on a particular topic.

"I make sure there are few, if any, surprises," she says, "and that includes delivering unpopular news at times."

"Everyone's actions either help or hinder a change process. You don't need to be in a formal position to influence others."

Being a good leader also means being a good follower.

"Good followers show a willingness to openly and appropriately state their thoughts and ideas," says Kolasa. "Sometimes you have to take action even when you may not fully agree, as long as it's not unethical or contrary to your values. You need to support your unit's overarching mission and values and have a commitment to fulfilling them."

Influencing across

When working with colleagues and managers in other departments, Gross says it's important to have clear goals and to be able to explain what's in it for them. How does this benefit them, as an individual or a unit? What will it bring to the University as a whole? For example, when recruiting participants for the financial systems project, she focused on information and knowledge that would be brought back to each unit.

Kolasa recommends learning all you can about a situation and asking questions to clarify your understanding.

"Open, honest, consistent communication lays a foundation for influencing individuals regardless of position," she says.

Dee Anne Bonebright directs the Supervisory Training Program in the Center for Human Resources Development.

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