“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell, American author and speaker.
Most managers do a decent job of wrangling their teams, maintaining training schedules, keeping track of projects, and providing the overall guidance their teammates require in order to complete their assigned projects—and typically, they do it in person, from the same location as their team. But in any large organization, you’ll find the occasional leader who, through no fault of their own, isn’t often around. (<–Click to Tweet.) Sometimes they just don’t work in the same office as the rest of the team, or can’t come in often for various reasons. This may include leaders who work from home, who have to travel constantly for work, who prefer a hands-off attitude, or who doesn’t see most of the team because the team members themselves are home-based.
If you find yourself in this situation, it may seem to you that your manager is remarkably “laissez-faire” about what happens with the team, as long as you do your jobs. In their opinion, it appears, only results matter… and they’re right about that. Or, they may believe in you more than you believe in yourself, know you can get the job done without micromanagement, or just subscribe to the “management by exception” approach. I’m not a big fan of the latter, but I’ll admit it works well for some. If they get results, then they’re doing something right.
Whatever the case, because you don’t see them every day, you may feel almost rudderless—even if your leader stays in regular electronic contact. If that happens, then you and your teammates may have to take up the perceived slack to provide or maintain the workplace framework you prefer. When you commit to working closely together to ensure everyone succeeds as a group, you can function just fine on your own.
If your leader is OOO on a regular basis, you’ll require a steady level of contact as well as a suitable distribution of authority so you can successfully function without them. You don’t want to have to ask for permission for everything, as that slows down the work process and hinders productivity, but you do need to arrange calls or teleconferences in which the leader provides guidance and sets expectations regarding the latest goals, objectives, and duties for everyone on the team. Such calls needn’t occur every day, as long as they occur; the interval is up to the leader. He or she may also assign a training coordinator, in an effort to keep honing team ROI while away.
Which raises a question: Who arranges the contact? Normally, whomever the manager appointed to do so before leaving—for example, an administrative assistant. If they forgot to assign someone or left it to the team’s initiative, then someone has to pick up where the leader left off. Why not you? Don’t jockey for the position, but do step up willingly when the team needs you. If necessary, convene a team meeting and decide who will act as the contact with your absent leader.
If something comes up suddenly—like an emergency meeting—and you don’t have time to inform your manager, then just deal with it. That’s what they would expect of you. You may need to temporarily adopt your leader’s responsibilities to handle the situation, and even make decisions they would normally make—no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. That said, whatever you do in your leader’s name, let them know you’ve done it as soon as possible, and be prepared to reverse a decision if you’ve taken the wrong course. Flexibility in all things has become the name of the business game nowadays.
In short, when your leader is MIA, find a way to manage the situation without your own (and the team’s) productivity suffering. All good employees manage up to some extent, and here’s an opportunity to exercise this vital skill. You never know—your manager may be testing your qualities for leadership, or stepping aside to allow you the leadership experience you’ll need later in your career.
Danger, Will Robinson!
Let two caveats guide you and your team when working without a leader: first, make the logical decisions as you think he or she would make them, asking for advice from them beforehand, if you can. Second, don’t let your own work duties slide while trying to handle ad hoc management duties, too. Remember, your function has its own importance within the team’s work process. Sometimes, all it takes is one missed deadline to throw off the whole team, leaving everyone in a tizzy you’ll then have to untangle.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.