It was a hot, sunny afternoon in June. Approximately two hundred guests were set to arrive for an event where I was serving as a volunteer. The 16-foot grazing table of desserts had loads of treats, plates, and napkins. It looked beautiful and delicious.
I was assigned to serve at the drink table, a 4-foot table with four small drink dispensers of coffee, punch, ice water, and hot water for tea. It also looked beautiful, but I was immediately concerned about the small table creating a bottleneck in the line, not to mention the logistics of refilling those small dispensers. To make matters worse, we had limited supplies and workspace for mixing up additional batches of punch.
I saw these problems coming, but since I wasn’t in charge, I didn’t speak up. I figured the person in charge knew more than I did and had it figured out. The result? The people I was serving were disappointed (and thirsty). I was stressed and looked incompetent… serving punch at a reception.
We can still lead, even when we don’t have authority. It requires:
Speaking up. Leaders (and event coordinators) have a lot on their plates. Don’t assume they’ve thought of everything. You may have a unique vantage point or perspective they don’t have. You don’t need to wait for them to ask for your input.
Being kind and respectful. Keep your tone positive and helpful. There’s a difference between questioning someone and asking a question. Depending on the situation, it may be best to communicate one-on-one with the leader- so they don’t feel like you’re calling them out in front of a group.
Looking for solutions, not just pointing out problems. Take the initiative to develop and share some potential solutions. This demonstrates your willingness to be a team player. The leader likely already has enough problems to solve, so your proactive approach will be valued and appreciated.
My afternoon at the punch table was clearly a low-stakes situation. But a valuable leadership lesson, nonetheless. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you have accountability and responsibility, but no authority, remember to speak up, be kind and respectful, and offer solutions, not just problems.
And what about when you are the leader? What can you do to cultivate an environment where your team members feel empowered to share their perspectives and offer solutions?
If you’re interested in more leadership stories like this one, I share my real-life experiences and how I relate them to leading my team and my business in weekly videos on LinkedIn. Follow me on LinkedIn to make sure you don’t miss one of my weekly leadership videos!