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When it's time to take action, you have only three choices: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Of course, "getting out of the way" is rarely an acceptable choice when there's work to be done. So the proper course of action is to either lead or follow. If you know the right way to go about it, the choice is yours. Your goal, however, should be to tailor your decisions to the company culture and supervisory style in which you work.

A company's culture determines who holds the authority to make decisions. If you decide to take the lead in taking action, you have to be sure the organization gives you the authority to act. Good etiquette requires you to observe your company's culture before you assume you have the authority to lead. Consider the following points.

* One company culture is a strict hierarchy. If workers want to take initiative, they need to work through the chain of command. The first step is to document the actions they want to take. Then they wait until they receive approval to proceed.
* A participatory culture seeks input from many levels in the organization before managers make the final call. Workers who want to take the lead can gather information and prepare solutions without seeking approval, but they should report back to their bosses.
* A company using distributed decision-making expects people to take initiative, so assertive action is welcome. People should start by talking to other workers who may be affected by their actions. They need to build consensus, then implement their decisions.

There may be times when you'd rather take a back seat and let others lead. Perhaps you're still learning a new job responsibility or just don't want to take on a new task. The solution is to provide information so others can lead.

When you make the decision to lead, you first must think about your boss's supervisory style. Some supervisors may be offended by subordinates who are too assertive. However, in most situations, supervisors appreciate workers who show initiative. If you take actions compatible with your boss's supervisory style, you'll avoid giving the impression you're trying to do your boss's job. Keep the following points in mind when dealing with the three types of supervisors: quarterbacks, coaches, or cheerleaders.

* Bosses who are quarterbacks want to be involved in everything. If you want this type of boss to take charge, just ask his advice. Before you know it, he'll make the plan, assign the tasks, and do a big chunk of the work himself.
* Bosses who are coaches like to talk strategy, but then they'll expect you to take over from there. If you want to be a follower, you'll sometimes have to ask the coach to lead. Coaches will lead as a way to help you learn, but don't expect them to change roles frequently.
* If your supervisor is a cheerleader and you want to be a follower, you have a problem. Cheerleaders stay on the sidelines while you do the work. You'll have to convince a cheerleader that you can't handle the task before he'll take charge.

As you can see, there are no simple rules of etiquette to follow when you're deciding whether to be a leader or a follower. But by tailoring your decisions to the company culture and supervisory style in which you work, you can ensure you're successful when you decide it's time for you to take the lead. What's more, you'll be able to choose the right course of action in everyday business situations.

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