Reorgs are not unfamilar nor infrequent these days as a result of the pandemic. You may find yourself now leading people doing what you used to do, or you moved to a new team and you’re both the leader and the new kid on the block.
Here are some practical tips I’ve gathered in over a decade of various transitions working for different organizations.
Is it easier to lead in familiar ground or in a new neighborhood?
When you lead people whose roles were assigned to you before, you know the in’s and out’s of things. This can be a double-edged sword. You can lead them well because you understand the groundwork and can raise them up to make good decisions faster than when you don’t have any background on the work. On the other side, because you know the nitty-gritty details, it’s also easy to stifle your team because you have a way of doing the processes and tasks that are now assigned to them. You can dive so deep into the details that it also stunts your leadership. Your role now is to provide a wider perspective and coaching, but you’re stuck draining your energy teaching them how things “should” be done. Players are inside; coaches know the game, but they are on the sidelines.
It’s also challenging to lead people when you’re totally new to the work, and more so if you’ve inherited a team versus being the one who hired them. It will take some learning curve to know the technicals of the job and also build a good working relationship with your team. Trust is a factor. At first, you don’t know if you can trust them to do the job simply because you don’t know them yet, and they don’t know if you can lead them because you’re totally new and have zero background on the work.
Having experienced both in the three organizations I’ve worked in, I find that in either scenario, the leader needs to be self-aware of her tendencies, exercise self-control, and exert conscious effort to shift to the kind of leader she now needs to be.
Leading in Familiar Ground
If you got promoted and now lead someone who used to do your job, make an effort to:
- Shift from teaching to coaching. Onboarding someone new calls for teaching, but after that, you’ll need to give them space to figure things on their own and navigate between teaching and coaching depending on the need, and eventually shift to coaching. When your direct report knows more details than you, that’s a great win!
- Encourage them to improve existing processes. A fresh set of eyes will always see so much opportunity to improve things. Be open for them to recommend, and be open to try things out. If after two years, your direct report is still doing the same things you did and using the same templates you made, that could indicate that either your direct report has not grown, or you’ve not allowed him to grow.
Leading in a New Neighborhood
There’s this funny leadership analogy I found from me being new, and our team’s printer being new to me.
Back in my old team in my previous role, I was one of those who knew the strengths and weaknesses, areas for improvement, quirks, good days and bad days, and troubleshooting of our beloved scanner-printer-photocopier. I knew the sound of a paper jam even before it happened. I knew which panel to open to get those bits of pieces of paper out. I knew how to change the toner. How? Because there was a time nobody else did, and you just do whatever needs to be done, even cleaning the toilet (that’s another story for later).
Coming onboard to my new team, someone taught me how to use the scanner-printer-photocopier, just the basics so I can scan, print, or photocopy whenever. I was not taught how to troubleshoot it. When it wasn’t working, someone else fixed it. While waiting for it to get fixed, I’m forced to do other things I need to give my time to.
The gift you have to unwrap when you’re a new leader in a new neighborhood is that immediately, you can dedicate your time to the things only you can do—plainly because you don’t really know how to do the other things the others get to do.
That is such a blessing. Yes, you have to learn about the work your team does, but just enough to understand so you can rightfully consider them when you’re making decisions and be their voice when needed. Because you don’t know how to fix the printer, you let those who can fix it work on it in the way they do it.
When you’re both the leader and the one who’s new, make an effort to:
- Know your team. Get to know them personally, their strengths, areas the other people in the team complement them, their work style.
- Know your team’s work. In the first few months, dive in by being very observant and ask a lot of questions. Dedicate a limited time to do this, so you don’t forget to zoom back out to the wider perspective, and equally important, communicate this to your direct reports. In my most recent role, I told my team at the start that I’ll be diving into the details for about three months so that I could understand better our team’s work. I specifically told them that they might not be used to it and it might feel like micromanaging or over-supervising, but that it’s temporary. This way, if their previous supervisor had a different work style, at least I gave them a heads up and they know what to expect.
A Leader is a Reader
Add self-development into your weekly calendar like how you would add (and prioritize) weekly meetings. Thirty minutes to an hour of dedicated focused time to read about leadership, management, or even about industry trends in your work will help you be a better leader.
Here’s one highly recommended book you can read first in your new role. The link will take you to the eBook.
I hope you found this post helpful. Tell me more about your new role and how you’re doing, and if you have other practical tips, share them with us below!