I am engaged in a major, personal transition. After many years as a consultant, I am jumping back into agency life as the leader of a fire and aviation management program. Fortunately for me, I’ve rejoined an organization where I worked for many years and with which I am rather familiar. I’ve also got the advantage of working with some fine people who I know well, who know me, and with whom I have worked before in a variety of roles and circumstances. I’ve got management’s support and I have the advantage of being both a student of leadership and a seasoned leader. However, I’m still transitioning into a new leadership role, and we all know such a transition can prove a challenge.
Like most leaders transitioning into an organization from the outside, I lack established working relationships with some key people. As one might expect, despite decades in the fire service and previous experience in my new agency, I also lack a detailed understanding of both my new responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of the people I lead. However, I remain very confident and have no intention of failing. In fact, I intend to accelerate my transition, giving myself just 90 days to reach the point where I am contributing more to the organization than I am requiring of the organization to support my arrival.
Like all leaders, I must build credibility and win the trust of both the people I am expected to lead and those who lead me. What do I intend to do? First I remind myself every day that we are all in this together. While my new job is a big change for me, my arrival is similarly affecting a lot of people. Consequently, my goal during my transition, must be to maximize the positive effect I have on people and minimize the degree to which I compromise people’s performance. That means I must be at my mindful best by paying attention; communicating clearly and effectively; recognizing that I work with people who are different than me and adjusting for our differences; being patient; and treating people with kindness, courtesy, dignity and respect.
In addition to being mindful in my interaction with people, I will be asking a lot of questions. I’m giving myself just 90 days to gather information, learn the details of my responsibilities and those of the people I lead, understand the challenges and opportunities our program faces, and just generally improve my situational awareness. Fortunately, I like asking people open-ended questions and, as a consultant; facilitator; mediator; and college instructor I’ve had lots of practice. I ask questions because I want to prompt people to think carefully, encourage them to tell me what’s on their mind, promote dialog between us, and generally get people to engage with me. I hope that, by showing that I am willing to listen and learn, I will demonstrate that I value and respect the people I work with and foster confidence and trust in our relationships. In addition, by asking lots of questions, I can assess, not only the capabilities, but the motivations and adaptability of the people I am expected to lead.
Finally, during my 90-day transition time, I will concentrate on both my strengths and weaknesses. I know a thing or two about myself. For example, I am motivated by a good challenge and by getting results. I also want things to be as good as they can be, and I have never feared questioning the status quo. I also value competence and quality work. I’m pretty driven and, on a good day, I get more work done before lunch than many people do all day. My focus on achieving results, interest in effectiveness and continuous improvement, desire for competence, and my personal drive all represent characteristics that have served me well and have helped me succeed. However, I realize that those same traits can drive other people crazy and that people can perceive me as judgmental, opinionated, and aggressive. So, during my transition, I will pay a lot of attention to assuring that I take advantage of my strengths without allowing my strengths to become credibility busting weaknesses. Fortunately, we have a pretty diverse team, and I am confident that I can rely on others to help me overcome my weaknesses including a tendency toward impatience and insensitivity.
Transitioning into a new leadership role, can prove challenging and stressful. I intend to accelerate my successful transition by:
- Recognizing that I lack established working relationships with some key people and doing what I can to build credibility and trust with those people.
- Developing, as quickly as possible, my understanding of both my own responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of the people I lead.
- Reminding myself every day that, while my new job is a big change for me, my arrival is affecting others too.
- Being mindful in my interaction with people.
- Asking a lot of questions to prompt people to think carefully, encourage them to tell me what’s on their mind, promote dialog between us, and generally get people to engage with me.
- Showing that I am willing to listen and learn.
- Demonstrating that I value and respect the people I work with.
- Fostering confidence and trust in my relationships with people.
- Taking advantage of my strengths without allowing my strengths to become credibility busting weaknesses.
Mike DeGrosky is Chief of the Fire and Aviation Management Bureau for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Division of Forestry, and an adjunct instructor in leadership studies for Fort Hays State University. Follow Mike on Twitter @guidegroup or via LinkedIn.