When we are a close aide to a leader, our acts are often perceived as extensions of the leader’s values and intentions. In organizations in which the leader is focused on strategic and external priorities, we may become the primary contact point for the rest of the organization and exert great influence on it. Intentionally or not, we can create an atmosphere that doesn’t reflect the leader’s values.
Acting in the leader’s name is a delicate affair. Yet we must be willing to do it. We need a high degree of awareness of how our tone and actions support or detract from the leader’s values. If we allow our own issues with power to reflect poorly on the leader we may do serious damage to the organization and, eventually, to our career. For example, if we are more prone to a rigid command-and-control style of management than the leader, and staff want the organization to be more participatory, we may generate strong resentment toward “management.” When the leader becomes aware of how this is weakening the group’s commitment to the common purpose, she may need to dramatically distance herself from us.
By staying closely attuned to the leader we can reflect her values and approve or initiate actions that are consistent with those values and goals without burdening the leader with details. Clarifying in advance the categories of decisions we will make can prevent overstepping our authority. We might ask ourselves these questions when considering if we can speak for the leader in specific situations:
What has the leader’s position been on similar issues in the past?
Has the leader recently expressed clear feelings on this issue?
Is the leader in the process of reviewing her position on this issue?
Am I comfortable with what I perceive to be the leader’s position on this?
Is there anything that makes this a special case warranting consultation?
We must be careful not to interject our own agendas in the leader’s name. When courageous followers feel strongly about an issue and the leader does not, they take a stand on that issue in their own name and do not infer the leader’s support for it. They appreciate the power conferred on them and do not abuse it by blurring the boundaries between themselves and the leader.