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07 Dec '13

I want to have a voice but I am not in charge

Posted by T.J. Addington
This is a common issue, especially for staff members who are wired to lead but are not in a place of leadership yet. You see things that could be done better or opportunities that are not being exploited and you want to have a hearing. Sometimes no one is asking your opinion and other times when you  have pressed in you didn't get the hearing you wanted. What do you do?

Being heard in large part depends on how, when and what we choose to address. Let's start with the how. Often when we feel passionate about something we speak equally passionately, even forcefully and with emotion. This is rarely going to get the hearing we desire as leaders don't like to be forced on an issue. In addition, the emotion behind the conversation may cause a leader to feel that one has an agenda. 

Finally, the use of strong language - which leaders in the raw often use - is unlikely to garner a hearing. Leaders are usually willing to listen to a well articulated view that is shared without emotion and which is directed at the health of the team or organization. How we say what we say has a direct impact on how it is heard and responded to.

Then there is the what. It take wisdom to decide whether one should address certain issues. I remember a time when my senior leader was convinced on a course of action that I was sure would end in a disaster. While I had expertise in the area he chose not to ask me what I thought and I chose to not interject believing that he was not going to hear me anyway. 

The upshot was a loss of 1 million dollars over a year's course at which time he came to me and asked me to fix the area in question and eventually lead it. Had I pressed in when I could have I would not have been heard. Eventually I was heard and had the opportunity to redesign the whole division. Even when we believe we are right, there are times that it is not worth the capital expended in addressing, especially if we perceive we will not be heard.

Which leads us to the when. Again this is a wisdom question. Leaders are busy people with many issues on their minds. While what is on our minds is important to us, it may not rise to the importance in the mind of a leader. Look for an opportunity where it is possible to have a conversation in a natural and relaxed way rather than trying to press in on an already busy mind.

In addition, no matter where we are in the organization we can model excellence in our work, probity in our conversation and wisdom in our decisions - all of which give us influence when speaking to issues. 

As a young leader who wanted a voice but did not have the position, I learned the hard way on these three principles. Some I handled well and some not but keeping the how, when and what will give you a much greater voice from whatever chair you fill in the organization.