Google made it mainstream — can you benefit?
I walked out of one meeting, into the next. This is a common occurrence for many, one that is often difficult to prepare adequately and to shift the mindset from one topic to the next. In the first meeting I was working to create and document our engagement strategy for an upcoming international opportunity. This was an important meeting, as a result of the agreed direction, numerous people would complete numerous tasks in support of the decisions made. Despite playing a key role in the first meeting, I would hardly speak in the next.
It was during this first meeting that I realised the power of a term popularised by an interview with Google executive Laszlo Bock on their recruiting process (links below). They said one of the five things they look for in a candidate is ‘emergent leadership’. This is a term they use to describe that people need to be comfortable stepping into and out of leadership. No, I’m not talking about the new recruit running the organisation one day and then going back to shadowing someone in the finance department the next. I am talking about momentary leadership, an acknowledgement that good ideas are not assigned to just one person — the ‘one leader’.
During this first planning meeting, the concept of emergent leadership crystallised in my mind. We were discussing strategies for breaking down a complex inter-organisational problem so we could accurately communicate the areas of improvement. I believed that we needed to build a narrative to describe the problem as one shared equally between the organisations. Gail, one of the junior engineers, who had been quiet throughout the meeting mostly observing the interactions, spoke up. She said that during her undergraduate degree they had studied a breakdown between two large organisations during a merger. She identified that they had chosen a different route and it may have merit here.
After her description, the similarities to our problem were easy to spot, we pivoted our approach slightly and everyone agreed the strategy was improved because of it. I have been in meetings myself and realised that I may have some value to add, but sat there in silence. Choosing not to contribute and let the more senior people work through it. Gail, someone who knew she was junior, and that her opinion may not hold much merit, had been brave enough to speak up, and our strategy was much more refined because of it.
I walked out of the strategy meeting into a finance meeting and knew that I did not have a large role to play, I was way out of my area of expertise. However, Gail who had spoken up made me realise that I should pay attention to the meeting, and see if I had that just one piece of valuable information. Equally as important, I needed to let the right people lead that meeting. I was not the leader in that meeting, my speaking would not bring the most value.
You cannot lead in every meeting and interaction, most of the time you must follow and participate. However, if you do see that moment in which you can add value then do it. Then you must be comfortable stepping forward. However, even more importantly you must be comfortable stepping back and letting the best person lead the next part of the discussion or problem solving. The best leaders emerge when they can add value and then step back and let the next person bring their value. In this, we can all be emergent leaders. Even if it does not feel like you are being a leader, bringing your value and helping the team succeed is leadership behaviour.
In this, I am reminded of a dance crew. The crew itself maximises the strengths of each member of the team. They select the point at which that person can make the most impact, and bring them to the front. Once they have completed their piece, they move to the back. Into a supporting role. Emergent leadership is a great deal like this. Each person, understanding their own strengths, identifies when to come to the front of the group. Provide their value to the team, then retreat to the back of the group. Sometimes, your skill doesn’t fit the music, in this case you need to get in sync and follow the lad of the others. You cannot lead all the time, and you cannot have the best skill for every moment. Balancing these two makes for a great emergent leader.
And remember — if you are always at the front of the dance crew, you will never know if the rest of them are following you, and you will never maximise the talent of the team. Make sure you move to the back of the crew, and see what others bring to the battle. When Gail moved to the front of the crew, we got better. Make sure you take a turn at the back.
Stay safe and keep smiling,
I’m a new writer with a keen curiosity for people, human nature, leadership and growth. Newly minted website here. Same handle on Twitter.