So you’ve taken on a new team. It would have been a whole lot easier if you were replacing a troll, but you’re not. Stepping into the big manager’s shoes might leave you feeling a tad vulnerable. I know I did …
In August 2015 my role was defined as COO. An identify crisis ensued and before I knew it I found myself back at my desk in South Africa, virtually flanked by two exceptional leaders (both tall, tanned and talented) but there was more to it than that. I’d inherited a team, a slightly quirky, largely remote-working group of twenty somethings who were used to a very different type of leadership to the one I could offer. They were used to rocket fuel and chaos, dynamic innovative game changer WOW, and now they had me; responsible, structured, orderly, straight talking, process obsessed and calm.
I won’t lie to you, it might have been easier taking over from a less loved counterpart. Those early weeks were hard, and I still face some challenges. But on reflection I am feeling a certain sense of peace knowing that despite our vast differences, I’ve managed to build into my new team in a unique way. And while admittedly I resonate better with some than others, here’s what I think has helped on a whole.
- BE AUTHENTIC. Not always easy when you are trying to prove your worth but in those early days, despite the fact that I worked remotely, I truly needed to make time to speak to each of my team 1-2-1 to minimise any fear, something normal and natural when talking of change. I knew I’d need to hold on strong to who I am, push back if necessary and really keep asking if what I was thinking, feeling, saying and doing were aligned to what, at a very deep level, felt real to me. Sometimes I missed the mark, most times though, I think I’ve done okay.
- BE KIND and I mean to yourself in particular. It’s so easy to beat yourself up about things you’re not super at, but why do that when you can rather focus on the things that make you good at what you do? Why were you identified for the job over other candidates, what’s your secret sauce and how does that make you sizzle? In my instance I was all process, order and basics. I’d identified this as an area that was lacking in the current team. So while my predecessor had sparkle and KAPOW, I could bring calm, even and flow.
- BE PATIENT. Likely the hardest of the lot to master but necessary. With change comes, er, change and expecting anything less will leave you feeling despondent or disappointed. Trust is necessary when it comes to leadership and that is something that is earnt over time and not awarded with title. Regardless of your level of seniority or expertise when joining a new team you have to earn your stripes and that could take time, so you need to be patient.
- BE UNDERSTANDING: So like it’s hard for you, it’s also hard for your crew. Fact is, they might be feeling pretty vulnerable themselves. Working remotely means that I don’t have the privilege of spotting slight nuances, like a raised eyebrow or folded arms. I need to listen more carefully which isn’t always easy. I need to remember to ask for clarity and minimise making assumptions.
- BE VULNERABLE: Leaders are humans too right? So what the heck, admit you have absolutely no cooking clue what your team are about (yet). That you realise this is hard for them but it’s hard for you too. Tell them you are learning on your feet, you fear they won’t like you as much as your predecessor or that things won’t work as smoothly as you hope. This is okay. Totally and utterly perfectly okay. Showing this vulnerability builds trust in the most real and rapid way.