You are an extraordinary producer. Efficient, effective, and on top of your game.
Now, all of a sudden you accept a promotion within your organization to lead a team. Or, you were recruited away to lead a team in another organization.
Either way, the game has changed. Not only do you need to continue to produce results from your frontline work, you are also responsible for getting results from and through your team.
Oh, by the way. You’ve not had any leadership or management training. And, the role models that you’ve had over the years have been, how shall we say it, less than exemplary.
You are clearly in uncharted territory and feeling a bit anxious. What do you do? See a shrink and take Prozac? No! Here are a few suggestions that may help.
Assess your situation.
Have you been promoted/hired to turnaround, realign, or sustain the team?
- Turnaround. In a turnaround, you take on a unit or group that is in trouble and work to get it back on track. Turnarounds involve a lot of resource-intensive construction work — there isn’t much existing infrastructure and capacity for you to build on. To a significant degree, you get to start fresh, and it requires that you start making tough calls early.
- Realign. Your challenge is to revitalize a unit or group that has drifted into trouble. A realignment requires that you reinvent the team.
- Sustain. In a sustaining-success situation, you’re responsible for preserving the vitality of a unit/group and taking it to the next level. Keep people motivated by inventing a new challenge.
Realigning a team usually means redirecting its resources by abandoning old ways of operating and developing new ones. It can also suggest changing the team’s strategy, structure, skills, and even its culture. In turnarounds, you may be dealing with a group of people who are close to despair — it is your job to provide a light at the end of the tunnel. When sustaining success, you need to focus on what’s working and continue to build upon that.
In assessing your situation, you may want to think of yourself as an “architect” of your unit or group. The architect role may be unfamiliar to you because few first-time managers get training in organizational design. To equip your group to achieve its goals, these five elements of organizational architecture must work together:
- Strategy: The core approach your team will use to accomplish its goals.
- Structure: How people on the team are organized how their work is coordinated.
- Systems: The processes used to get work done.
- Skills: The capabilities of the various people on your team.
- Culture: The values, norms, and assumptions that shape team behavior.
Create a Mastermind Alliance
The term “Mastermind Alliance” was introduced into the popular lexicon in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the self-development classic, Think and Grow Rich. Hill described a Mastermind Alliance as “the coordination of knowledge and effort, in the spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.”
As a new leader/manager, you would be well served in creating your own Mastermind Group that will support you in your new role. The first step in establishing a Mastermind Alliance is for you to adopt a clear purpose or intention for the group, and then to choose individual members whose backgrounds make them valuable for supporting the purpose. For example, development leaders often establish and facilitate councils or boards to help guide fundraising efforts.
Recently, I established a group of executives from the corporate, nonprofit, and government sector that meet regularly as a roundtable to support one another as “Conscious Leaders.” Feel free to email me if you are interested in this group.
In forming such a group, it is essential to consider each candidate for membership in the light of his or her ability, personality, and willingness to help and cooperate with other members of the group.
Once the group is established, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that action is forwarded and learning deepened in support of fulfillment of the group’s purpose. You can organize each meeting with content or questions of interest to the group purpose while keeping everyone aligned with the intention. The major strength of such an alliance consists in the blending and contribution of all its members.
There are no hard and fast rules as to the number of individuals recommended for an alliance. The number should be guided by the nature and magnitude of the intended purpose. Groups of 4, 6, 8, 12, and up to 24 all work well.
Accelerate Your Learning
Usually, when a new leader swerves off course, failure to learn is a factor. There is so much new information to absorb that it’s difficult to know where to focus. Or, when a new manager/leader focuses too heavily on the functional side of the enterprise — metrics, donors, software, and strategies — critical learning about culture and politics is shortchanged. The fact that few managers receive training in systematically building and sustaining a high-performing team compounds the problem. Those who have had such formal training are usually better prepared.
Even in situations in which you are brought in solely to impart new ways of doing things — such as a turnaround — you still need to customize your approach by learning about the organization’s culture and politics.
A good starting point is to define your learning agenda, ideally before you even formally enter the organization or the new team. A learning agenda establishes your learning priorities and consists of a focused set of questions that will guide your inquiry. As you learn more, you can make adjustments and your learning will shift as the situation evolves.
During your transition to manager, you’ll learn from various types of hard data (e.g., financial and operating reports, strategic and functional plans, employee surveys, etc.). You’ll also pick up on the “soft” information about the team’s strategy, capabilities, culture, and politics. The best way to obtain this intelligence is to talk to people on the team. Get to know them and the situation. Identify resources that will make your learning more complete and more efficient.
Finally, as part of your learning plan, you will need to assess yourself and determine what skills you need to develop to grow as a leader. More often than not, the organization is not going to do this for you. So, it is incumbent that you take 100% responsibility for your learning and growth.
David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer who helps nonprofit leaders and their teams flourish, thrive, and get results.