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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Use a Stressful Workday to Show Off Your Leadership Potential

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You and your teammates are chugging along on a group project that’s not due for a while. Then, your manager walks into the office and proclaims, “Hey, so turns out that I’m going to need those results by the end of today.” And your new deadline happens to overlap with two more, which makes you all want to throw your hands in the air and proclaim defeat.

It would be easy to resign yourself to a never-ending series of conversations to discuss why everything sucks.

But before you join the pity party, there are a few things you can do to settle everyone down and stay positive and productive—even if you’re not in charge (yet).

Not only will doing this make you feel better and make it more likely that you complete your project, but it’ll also give you a chance to show off your leadership potential.

Get All Your Frustrations Out

While it’s not exactly productive to complain without figuring out a solution, it would be completely unhealthy to suppress your feelings and just power through. On some of the more frustrating projects I’ve worked on, I’ve noticed that setting aside time for everyone to air their grievances actually helps people move forward.

Even though you’re not the manager, there’s nothing stopping you from saying, “Hey, let’s press pause and vent for the next 15 minutes.” This might sound like an absurd amount of time to complain, but you’ll be amazed by how letting all your frustrations out in a controlled environment can both lead you to the answers you currently can’t find, while also making everyone feel heard. After all, sometimes just saying it aloud can make you feel better.

Not feeling confident about this plan? Maybe that’s because you don’t know how to complain productively. Check out these tips on making your venting sessions a positive.

Be Honest

Along the same lines as getting all your frustrations out is being honest.

One of the worst habits I have is sighing when things get tricky and spitting out something like, “Everything will be fine!” Of course, I never actually mean it, and would rather say other, not-so-fine things. And while you shouldn’t just spit out whatever the first thought you have is, it’s also OK to take a pass on sugarcoating how things have unfolded for you and the group.

In fact, it’s alright to say something like this: “I’m not going to lie, this isn’t ideal and I have a lot of other work on my plate to complete today in addition to this project. This probably won’t be the best assignment we’ve ever submitted. But our boss knows he changed the deadline last minute and I think we should all commit to doing the best we can with the time we have.”

It is possible to rally the troops without turning into a human motivational quote.

Listen More Than You Speak

Google once did a study to figure out how people can work more effectively in teams. What they found was that less effective teams tend to listen to a “manager” speak 80% of the time. On the flipside, teams at Google that didn’t have a single leader or moderator were the ones who were more productive.

To accomplish this, they practice what’s known as “conversational turn-taking,” which allows everyone to be heard. This is something that you should really keep in mind when your entire group’s losing their cool.

Now might not be the best time to step up and tell everyone what to do. Instead of being a director, think of yourself as a facilitator and make an effort to make sure everyone’s heard.

There isn’t a lot you can do to change a crappy situation that you’re being handed from your boss, or your boss’ boss, or your boss’ boss’ boss. But there are ways that you can step up and make life easier on your entire team by staying positive about the outcome and working toward the goal.

And, as I said earlier, even if you’re not the “official manager,” people will notice when you act like a leader in moments that need them. And that can’t hurt if you’re trying to get ahead.