Many of you may already be that brilliant, inspiring technical expert who acts as an informal leader. Perhaps you notice that people seem to follow you around. Or borrow your way of expressing yourself. Or maybe you don’t notice, but people tell you “I use you as a model,” or “You’re my mentor.” You might even find that notion a little annoying. “I want peers, friends, colleagues,” you may think. “I don’t want to be a role model.”
Like it or not, if you have great passion and enthusiasm and ability, other people are going to notice and are going to want to follow you. They will admire you, recommend you, try to be around you. That passion is attractive. It invites followers. Thus, you are now a leader. Like it or not, embrace it or not – you’re it.
Leaders and Managers
Effective leaders possess great inspiration, vision and the ability to motivate others. Managers may possess great inspiration, vision and the ability to motivate others, but they also are responsible for enforcing policy and procedures, delegating work, appraising performance and many other things that are often incredibly dull and soul-sucking.
So why would anyone want to do that? The fact is that all jobs have their soul-sucking bits. Even the love of your life, your technical specialty, has them. Perhaps you love writing code, creating apps, watching them come to life. You likely hate documenting that code, a task that most developers put in the “soul-sucking” bin.
So while managers have to do some remarkably dull things, they also exercise power and control, and have a greater ability to influence and implement decisions. That’s a big part of why people want to do it.
Get To Know People
First, your focus is people. In your first 30 days, you want to talk to as many people as possible.
Talk to your boss and her boss. Talk to your other stakeholders. Talk to sales, marketing, research, finance, HR, tech support, customer service, whatever makes sense. “What do I say?” you think.
To your boss and the management chain above you, you ask, “What’s the one thing you want me to focus on in the next 90 days?” Write it down.
To the other stakeholders, you say, “I want my group to work well with your folks. What’s the one thing that I can do better, do more of, do less of that will make your life easier?” Write it down.
And the most important people to talk to are those on your own team. Yes, you go with the same question, “What’s the one thing I can do in the next 90 days that would improve your work life?” Yes, you got it, write it down.
In all cases, if they have more than one thing, by all means jot those down as well. By asking for one specific issue, you’re helping them to focus. But you’re not trying to exclude additional issues.
There are other things important to ask the people who now work for you. First, ask for a resume or even just bullet points of their education and career. Know who you’ve got. This may seem really basic, but you’d be surprised how rarely it happens. If there’s an employee file or profile that you can review, do that before you talk to them.
Then bring them in for a private one-on-one and ask them some more questions. Have a prepared list that you’re going to run through with everyone, and send it out ahead of time if you can. Yes, that gives some people the chance to come up with canned what-the-boss-wants-to-hear answers, but it also helps establish trust. You’re not trying to lure them into your lair and ambush them. Good questions to ask are:
• What’s your favorite part of the job? What would you like to do more of?
• What’s your least favorite part? What would you like to do less of?
• Is there something you’d like to try that you haven’t done yet?
• What kind of rewards do you like? What motivates or demotivates you?
• Are your roles and responsibilities clear? Do you have enough to do? (You might be surprised how many people don’t.)
• Are there any interpersonal issues in the team or with other organizations that you’d like to make me aware of?
• It’s a year from now – what’s made this a successful year?
• And of course: what’s the one thing I can do in the next 90 days to improve your work life?
You need to know the appraisal system and how employees are rated and rewarded. You want to have that conversation with them as well, but I encourage you to do multiple sessions, one to get to know the person better, and then the next one to work on the formal paperwork or appraisal system.
People are not going to be 100% honest with you. They’re rarely going to outright lie to you, but they are going to try to put the best face on things. While that’s normal behavior, it’s up to you to read between the lines. Pay attention to the reaction you get to the questions. Do they seem enthusiastic and engaged by their answers? Do they seem happy to talk to you or are they acting like you’re wasting their time?
Try to master the art of writing without looking down at your paper. As they talk, keep the eye contact going, and just jot down a few words to help your memory.
Give yourself enough time between all these appointments to write up a short summary for yourself.
Trust your instincts. If you think you’re not getting the whole story, or if there’s a mismatch between what they say and how they’re acting, note that. Don’t pursue it like a detective, but just keep it in the back of your mind.