Diane is six months into her assignment as a midlevel manager in a large technology company. She was promoted to this position because of her previous “wild success” as a first-line manager, where she managed a team of engineers. She’s struggling in this new position, feeling ungrounded, overwhelmed and unable to lift herself up enough to see where her organization is heading.
She thought the transition to this midlevel position would be easy. But this is where the rubber meets the road in many companies. She will either find a way to become successful or she’ll fail. Unknowingly she’s being tested now to see if she has the mettle to get through the complexities she’s dealing with and manage a team of managers that will drive — in her words — “my organizational agendas forward.”
Wait a minute. What’s wrong with that last sentence?
Her organizational agendas! Nobody told her that she needed to have input from her team! While she had her head down, responding to perceived emergencies, doing the work that her managers should be doing and fighting every new fire on her own, she hasn’t stopped to think, “How can I maximize my time in order to make the most impact?”
Sadly, this true scenario plays itself out time and time again. This is the plight of countless managers who move into similar situations: a new promotion (or position), hardly a moment to catch their breath, and they’re running as fast as they can to keep up.
Are you in a similar situation?
If so, you’re being watched to see whether or not you’re agile enough to learn what is and what isn’t expected of you. Your organization wants you to lead, and leadership is defined by how you spend your time.
Diane isn’t leading. She’s being pulled along unconsciously toward failure. She has a choice about where to put her efforts and she can do this by embracing what leadership really requires:
Collaboration: Organizational agendas and a vision will be better accepted and implemented when they are developed in a collaborative atmosphere, with you leading the effort rather than just handing it over to stakeholders and expecting them to sing to your tune. That might sound simplistic but I run into leaders ever day who can’t figure out why their vision, strategies, and agendas aren’t going anywhere. It may be because others don’t feel like they were a part of their creation. It gets harder if you don’t start from day one by asking others to participate in the creation of a future for your organization, so start thinking about how you’ll do that before it’s too late.
Delegation: A lot has been said about delegating over the years, but a lot of leaders and managers aren’t listening. The importance of delegating requires repeating because it is a lifelong struggle for many leaders — especially those who have a natural tendency to want to control. It means you have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable in not knowing everything everyone is doing at every minute. Yet you still have to hold them accountable. If those seem like opposites, they are a little. But you will either die of exhaustion or drop some important balls if you continue to attempt to be involved deeply in everything all of the time. Pick your battles: What are the most important things for you to do and who needs to do the rest?
Coaching: In our complex business environments, it isn’t enough to simply delegate. You may not have the luxury of having a team that has the breadth and depth needed to do everything that needs to be done alone. You’ll have seasoned team members and you’ll have those who need to learn the ropes. Both can use coaching — from you or from whomever else is appropriate — when they can’t see their way forward. Coaching is a collaborative conversation, and you can find the right path forward together. You don’t have to have all the answers.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Where you spend your time defines you as a leader.” Don’t let time pull you along. Figure out what it means to lead, and spend your time doing what’s most important.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.