A New Season – Lessons Learned by Jim Johnson

At the beginning of this month, one of my managers resigned. She worked for our company for 12 years. She was my direct report for the past 10 years. The transition has been better than expected. For me, it’s been a lot of hard work (which I don’t mind at all) and even more communication. I’ve learned some things as my team is moving to a new season.

Leadership

I quickly learned what this former manager’s passions were. She was responsible for far too many aspects of our business (that’s another blog post). So, she ended up working as most people do – she focused on her passions and strengths. In part, I don’t fault her for that. I understand that over time, I had allowed her to take on more and more. I failed to be a road block when the company dumped new responsibilities on her and her team. She even joked that her department was the “junk drawer” of the company.

But even in the midst of the “junk”, critical responsibilities were passed over. Decisions were made as to what to focus on and what to ignore.

Things like staff development. I have been spending a lot of time coaching this month. This team is a great team of individuals who desire to perform better. But they didn’t fully understand how they impacted the company’s bottom line, brand image, and monthly metrics. I was told this was being done. I assumed it was. I found out differently this month.

Leadership is hard. Leadership takes a lot of time – corporate and personal. Leadership requires more from the leader than it does from the followers. Leadership pays off when the team makes progress based upon clear, outlined, focused direction.

Communication

I have learned that a leader cannot really over communicate. Team communication (when ignored) can morph in the the children’s game “telephone” – one person hears something and then translates that information to someone else who processes it and then tells the next person what they thought they heard and so on…

I talked with a staff member yesterday who was convinced of a process that I knew was not correct. She emphatically told “it’s this way, Jim!” I looked into it (even though I knew I was right), followed up with this employee, and set the record straight. “Oh,” she said, “that’s not what I was told…”

I communicate my schedule, company news, fraud reports, team metrics, kudos, focus statements, etc. I do this via emails, instant messaging, over the phone, via text, and in person.

If my team has gaps in its understanding of an issue/process/procedure, they will fill those gaps themselves – and the “filling” may not be correct.

Change Management

I’m in the process of finding a new manager for this area. The staff is nervous. Will the new boss come with a whipping stick? Will they be flexible? Will they be nice? I’ve heard these thoughts echoed as I have sat down with the staff in one-on-ones to discover what they’re thinking and feeling about this transition.

Change is never easy for people. I’ve seen tears. A staff member had some physical ailment arise from the stress of change. Others are drumming up drama. Others still are positioning to be a next-in-line leader.

My job is to guide them through this change through openness, honesty, communication, and vision.

Yes, I’m working to cast of vision in the midst of change. Why?

1. Vision sheds a spotlight on the path to change. People want to know where they are going. My job is to show them the way.

2. Vision paves a common path. I don’t want my team to choose different paths to a destination they think they are supposed to reach. I want us all on the same path focused on the same target. I want the power of connectedness.

3. Vision creates security. None of us know the future, but vision from a leader to the team can communicate that where they are going is going to be a very good thing. Change brews uncertainty. Vision can, in part, clear the fog of uncertainty.

I’m still learning. I have 4 other departments that I’m responsible during this transition. Yes, I go home tired. Yes, my kids notice. Yes, I’ve sometimes told my daughter, “daddy’s run out of words to say” at the end of the day.

While I didn’t like seeing a seasoned manager leave, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to learn, grow, and stretch as a leader. It’s helped me lead my other leaders. I have the chance to identify my weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

I’ve been leading people for over 30 years. It’s a new season for me and my team. I’m not too old to keep learning.

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