A hierarchical structure exists in organizations where certain levels of the team are referred to by different titles. Chief executive officer, executive assistant, manager, director, dean, vice president, administrator, custodian and even master of the universe. OK, the last one doesn’t really exist (at least I couldn’t get it to stick where I work), but you get my drift. Labels matter, but so does the way we interact with and refer to the individuals holding these titles. A key problem with organizations is thinking of the function of these different tasks in limiting ways. Surely the administrator who is taking minutes for this meeting doesn’t have anything meaningful to offer. Or do they?
Consider the breadth of operations an administrative assistant sees every day. These people are interacting with different departments/units/colleges to ensure various processes are being executed and followed through with daily. However, this informal network is often overlooked. The very nature of the “other duties as assigned” designation allows them to glean valuable knowledge from a large catchment group which renders their advice and insight invaluable to their home team.
As a leader, it is important to bring everyone to the table and treat them as equals. Furthermore, it is important to foster a community where all employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas regardless of ranking. In meetings, encourage your team to introduce themselves with what they do not the title they have in some HR system or job description. This gives them agency to describe their function and what it means to the overall organization and its success.
The key here is to acknowledge that a leader can’t begin to and shouldn’t try to understand the limits of any one person’s competency to weigh in on complex issues. The more brains involved with solving a particular task, the better. When we capitalize on the intellectual powerhouse across all ranks in an organization, we open the door to more creative problem solving. We are literally looking outside of the decision maker box and saying, “You, over there. What do you think about this?” A welcome consequence of this championing behavior is it builds up the next cohort of great leaders. Having seen this example, they informally lead their peer groups and foster a collaborative culture.
I encourage you as leaders, in any capacity, in any venue, to keep an open mind and consult with your most trusted advisors. I guarantee that administrator who has diligently been organizing your meetings for the last 6 months has something constructive to offer.
In the spirit of soliciting advice from stakeholders, what do you want to talk about with me on this blog? I would love for you to leave me a comment so we can talk about leadership topics you are interested in. Better together means my virtual blog fam too!