To Lead or Not to Lead?

I am not sure where my desire to lead originated, but my first guess would be my upbringing as an only child.  I didn’t have to share the limelight with any siblings, so being the center of attention was normal. I was a bossy child, teenager and young adult. I am certain this bossiness was not as attractive or inviting when I was a teenager, because it was very self-serving and “me” focused. As I moved into adulthood and got my first job, I realized quickly that not everyone shared my enthusiasm for my ideas.  As my work experience grew, and my focus changed from “me to team”, I realized that my desire to lead had more to do with improving the environment for those who work in it, as well as myself.

I had minor leadership responsibilities in all the positions I have held, but my first job as a true leader began when I took a position at Northern Nevada Medical Center. I was hired to lead the Materials Management department, and I had been given the privilege of heading up a team of four.  I did not meet any of my new staff prior to starting, and on my first day I arrived at work with grand expectations that I would be welcomed with open arms and everyone would be keenly interested in all the changes I wanted to make.

I learned quickly that I was an outsider, not only new to the facility but I came over from one of the competitors in town. I had two strikes before I even started. That first morning I met with my staff, provided some insight into my experience and vision. I asked my staff to give me some history about the facility, as well as information about how the department itself functioned. No one spoke, it was the first time I hoped for chirping crickets! No amount of cajoling could open my new team up. Not to be deterred, I realized that as an outsider I needed to gain their trust, so I spent that first week shadowing each position so I had a good understanding of their daily duties and challenges.

I would like to say at the end of the first week that I truly was welcomed with open arms, that they instantly liked me and trusted me, but I would be lying.  The previous manager of this department had run things with an iron fist, he had his favorites and all of the staff knew it. Even though it was such a small department, little fiefdoms had been created, and everyone was working on their own agendas. There was no camaraderie, no teamwork, and certainly no trust. At the end of my first work I clearly questioned my decision to take on this new role, and wondered if it would be too late to get my old job back.

Thankfully, I not only love to be in charge, but I also love to be challenged. At the end of my first month, I had been able to get some historical information from other managers within the facility that helped explain some of the behaviors of my staff. I made it a point not to be one of those managers that comes in and says “in my other job we did this” or “we did that”.  I spent the entire first month getting to know everything I could about my people, our processes, and our customers. At the beginning of my second month, I held a staff meeting in which I shared my observations, and then publicly stated what my visions were for improvements. I told my staff I would be working with each of them one on one to see what changes would work. I told them their feedback was vital to the success of our department, and I reinforced my open door policy.

The fact that my first month was spent observing helped my staff see that my first priority was them, and not change implementation. While the first year was challenging, we were able to make huge improvements in our internal and external customer service. I did experience the projected 25% turnover, but I learned some of my most important lessons that year. You have to understand exactly how something functions to be able to identify what needs improving. You have to gain the trust of your team to successfully implement change. And you have to have faith in your team that they see the vision and feel that they can support it to fruition.

I welcome your feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow!



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