When we are young we typically follow western education’s tradition of learning and testing, learning and testing, thanks to Plato. Eventually if we are lucky we latch onto the socratic method and we start to ask questions and teach ourselves through inquiry and discussion. The problem with socratic knowledge is that it goes untested until it is needed. So, when do you know that what you think is true, and how much are you willing to bet on it?

Often times in the workplace people question the leadership or management, something I am very much guilty of. We think we know something to be true and we “monday morning quarterback” all day long. Maybe we’re right, maybe we’re wrong. Chances are we were missing key information, including political motives made by those above us. In the end our second guessing ends as wasted time and energy, especially when we become emotionally attached to our position.

So how do you assert yourself, especially when opportunities seem few and far between? Let’s face it, rarely does someone come out and say that you are being given a chance for leadership just because you do your current job well.

Advertisement

This isn’t a make your own luck rant, it’s a push to make a cool and calculated judgement every day, and play the odds. Starting as a teenager I’ve had to keep a job of some kind. Each and every day I make it a point to overstep my authority. Often times it’s doing something I should “run by” my boss. Sometimes it is deciding something for a colleague. In other words, this often small thing will be done my way and there’s no more discussion. It’s a low risk and low reward conservative approach to asserting authority that no one has given you. Not only do you avoid the hassle of too many opinions, but you also over time develop a powerful confidence and respect. Who knows, maybe you are already making these calls and you just aren’t thinking about them.

Colleagues don’t often admit it, but many appreciate not having to make the call, or spend time debating the call. They will eventually call it leadership.

The odds do sometimes come back to get you when something goes wrong, but I’ve found that between making a conservative enough bet each day and owning any mistakes that do happen the pros will overtake the cons fairly quickly. You will also learn over time so your mistakes become few and far between. You’ll also learn to develop contingency plans.

Advertisement

As an example, I’m given a budget for my boss’ division. It is part of my job to have enough money to last the year doing what we need to do, plus what my boss and others may want to do, along with being prepared for the unknown. Some days I find myself saying no to an expense, sometimes yes, all the while knowing that if my boss found out, he might have a different opinion. The key is knowing the threshold. For some things like supporting an event, it may only be a few hundred dollars but if my boss may not like the event, I know that I might want to ask him. On the other hand, I might spend tens of thousands of dollars on a renovation or equipment purchase because I know it is needed, and if my boss asks, I know I can sell it and own the decision. In the end it’s not about the dollar amount, it’s knowing the players, the landscape, and the risk.

Even if you don’t have access to resources, you can choose to delegate something, or decide this is the direction of the project. In other words, if you present your monday morning quarterback thoughts on sunday, the rest of the team will be glad they didn’t have to have the idea.

Decide that you’re not going to accept paper in your mailbox anymore. Things should be e-mailed to you. Decide that the ugly thing someone put on the wall ten years ago needs to come down and be thrown out. Take a page from Office Space and decide your cubicle doesn’t need that fourth wall anymore. Make choices that may or may not be yours to make and find out later how it is going to play out. Just be smart about it and own each one!

People will notice.