When I first became a department head, I thought I needed to immediately leave my mark. This is especially difficult when you are being asked to lead people who used to be your peers. Instead of being the fun, energetic teen librarian, I became a “tough guy” wanting to make changes right away. I remember a time early on when I wanted to establish authority, so when something went wrong (I honestly cannot even remember what happened) I called everyone into my cramped office and suddenly became the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. Basically, I was a jerk and even worse a jerk to staff who I had recently worked with in the trenches. Luckily, as my job evolved and assumed more staff in my department, I was given a “mulligan” or second chance to redeem myself. What I learned was assuming leadership over a team comprised with individuals who used to be peers is a slow process. It takes time and energy to build the trust needed for any team to be successful. I am still trying to fix the damage I inflicted early in my managerial career. A recent blog post from the Harvard Business Review written by Amy Gallo summed it up nicely:
• Tread lightly at first. Don’t introduce any major overhauls right away. Identify a few small decisions you can make fairly quickly, but defer bigger ones until you’ve been in the role longer.
• Be actively present. Spend time with each of your new direct reports. Ask, “What can I do to make you more successful?” This question shows that you’re in charge, but also conveys that you’re there to support them.
• Look beyond your team. During this type of transition, it’s easy to become focused on your former peers. But don’t forget to build connections with new counterparts and your new boss.
It’s OK to screw up your first time as a manager. Horrible bosses refuse to even acknowledge that they need a “do over” and handicap teams. What will make you a great leader is to that you use your mulligans to right your wrongs. The Mulligan Man hereby grants you a few extra mulligans. Go forth and use them only for good.