Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day 1 as a first time boss, what do you do know?

What do you do when you assume your first team lead role?

First, take a few deep breaths. Hopefully this isn't something out of the blue, it should be a position you sought out yourself. If so, go back to the job description, and make sure you have the expectations clearly defined. If there is a trusted advisor or mentor you have, chat with them. Ideally you will have been talking to them prior to the role.

I had to go through a panel interview, and they asked some great questions. The client had to give an unofficial approval, and for whatever reason did (they didn't know me at all). This is one of those instances where all your networking, and your sincere desire to help others pays off. Reputation matters.

If this is out of the blue, you need to talk to your management immediately. If you aren't interested (and you don't have to be, not everyone is meant for management) then you need to tell them. If you are, but this isn't a planned on occurrence, you need to learn as much about the expectations, requirements and duties as you can. You don't want to get stuck in a bad position. Make sure you ask around about the roll, you could be getting set up to fail (unintentionally)

Eventually you'll have to decide if you want to talk to a few of your new people about how the team was led etc. This would be purely insider stuff. It's high risk. You can get good info (ground truth) but you run the risk of them blabbing, or the intel being bad. This can set you up for some brilliant first steps, or painful biases. I got some info from people that I knew had my best interests, and my team's, at heart. It helped even though some of it wasn't correct. But it let me know what the perceptions were.

You'll definitely want to talk to all your people, find out what they are doing, where they are in their careers, what their goals are, what their development needs are, etc. And you'll need to define for them who you are, and how you will help them. Doing this too fast, can spook people. You have to consider their preferred style of a manager. Maybe they want you to leave them alone, maybe they desperately need your help and guidance. I had people twice my age coming to me immediately for guidance and help, I didn't expect that, especially not from some of my most senior people.

For the love of Pete, do NOT jump into all your new reporting requirements and the like. And the only time it is ok to come in and "blow up" the team and how it works is if it is clear to all observers the team was broken before you got there. And if you do this, you can't point the finger at them, or else they'll never be open to you. And they will need to know and understand that things were broken before. You'll be surprised by who does and doesn't see it this way.

I also highly recommend "What got you here won't get you there" by Marshall Goldsmith. It's a tremendous book, a great resource. If you can take an honest look at yourself, this will help you a lot going forward.
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