I'm a leader! But no one knows it yet...
January 23, 2014 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting a promotion, but it won't be confirmed until the spring. How do I begin to transition into my new role without overstepping boundaries?

A few weeks ago, my bosses sat me down and told me that I would be getting a raise and a promotion in the spring. Between now and then, they want me to start transitioning into more of a leadership role. Hooray!

But now I'm dealing with a delicate situation because 1) the promotion isn't "official" yet; 2) I'm starting to supervise someone who doesn't know that I am/will be responsible for her work (and she has a lot of seniority on me but I was chosen to lead our department); and 3) my other coworkers don't know that I am now/will be the lead in our department. In addition, we're a small office - 10ish people total and my coworker and I are the only 2 in our department - so it's hard not to betray that something is up.

How do I begin this transition without overstepping any boundaries? I'm trying to keep my ears open and step in regarding my coworker's performance when necessary, without being too obvious about it. I'm also pushing for some changes in the department in terms of workflow, but I'm keeping my coworker appraised of what's going on and trying to involve her as much as possible. What should I be doing? What shouldn't I be doing?
posted by anotheraccount to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am going through this now and if I knew then what I know now I would have said to my boss, "Hey, since I am going to be transitioning into this position but it won't be announced until this date, there may be some friction from people who don't understand why my responsibilities are expanding. How do you plan to approach this with the team?"

Because I am miserably under supported right now and am dealing with major logistical issues because nobody high up said, "Birdie is now this. Respect her." Ugh.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:14 PM on January 23, 2014 [17 favorites]

Double ugh. The cynical been-through-this-before part of my brain says "you don't to a single thing differently until the promotion has been announced and the raise has been signed off." I hate these kinds of promises with a passion.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:19 PM on January 23, 2014 [20 favorites]

I would say that, if they want you to take a leadership role, it's a two-way street. It's your job to step up to their expectations, and it's their job to establish publicly what your responsibilities are. Even if they don't announce your promotion (which, ugh, smells fishy) they need to announce your new responsibilities; doing otherwise will undermine your ability to lead those areas.
posted by samthemander at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would suggest taking your wardrobe up half a notch so the bosses will see you are treating it seriously. I would also tidy up documentation/methodology on your current role so it's ready to hand off to the replacement. If you bosses have any management books on their walls, I'd probably make a note and then check out a copy from the library. For instance, my present boss is a John Maxwell fanatic so I never present a new idea without dropping a buzzword or two.
posted by 99percentfake at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agreed that leadership should at least make clear that your role has shifted and that your responsibilities are changing. Otherwise you just look like a busybody. I think 99percentfake has some good advice, but I would also ask a question like, "How do we communicate the coming changes to the staff so they know what to expect?" If they refuse to do that, you may want to ask exactly what leadership-type things they expect you to do between now and when the promotion is announced.
posted by jeoc at 6:45 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Leadership doesn't mean telling people what to do, in most cases. It means helping to identify and solve/work around issues that are getting in your staff's way so they can keep moving forward. Start getting in the habit of being more helpful in a peer-appropriate way: be friendly, ask thoughtful questions about work everyone is doing, and if you see/hear about something problematic, ask the people involved if you can help in some way (and mean it.) in the next few months everyone will get used to this, and appreciate it, and then when you officially have authority you keep doing the same thing -- but now you have more power to solve the problems and help others out.
posted by davejay at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and for now if anyone doesn't want to share with you or reacts badly to your help offers, back off and use the time before promotion to think about different strategies you might explore once promoted to help that person directly or indirectly when they need it. Different people need different attention (or none at all.)
posted by davejay at 6:58 PM on January 23, 2014

This isn't time for you to start doing things.

This is time for you to start planning how you will do things.

That's, you know, a nice thing to have.
posted by ook at 7:25 PM on January 23, 2014

I would absolutely NOT start addressing performance issues until your bosses explicitly tell you to - and then you have the "how do we start communicating my promotion to the team?" conversation.

I honestly think both you and your bosses will be best served if you are taking a positive leadership role. ie, where there are inefficiencies/things that make it harder for the team to do their jobs well, you start working on solutions to those things. That way the team also starts seeing you as a leader before you take on the official role, rather than "oh, of course, anotheraccount has been telling us what to do for 8 months and now management is rewarding her for it!"
posted by lunasol at 7:48 PM on January 23, 2014

Ugh, tough situation.

I recommend DO: keep quiet about the promotion. Learn as much as you can about what everyone does in your group in an "I'm interested in knowing as much as I can" way. Suggest improvements to processes, if you happen to see any, as if you're responsible but don't act like you have any more say than anyone else. You're just suggesting at this point. Your boss will like you taking ownership like this and may implement your suggestions, but you don't want to start bossing around the other people.

Speaking of that DO NOT: start doing anything personnel-related to managing people. You are still not entitled to discuss their performance, know any of their personal information, vote on leave/compensation (except maybe in private with your boss, if he/she asks your opinion) or make work assignments (unless that is something you normally do in certain situations.)

You should discuss this plan with your boss and make clear that you are being put in a weird situation with respect to stepping on people's toes until they give you official sanction to do what you need to do. You will need your boss to play along, only asking for input on sensitive issues in private, and not expecting some of those DO NOTs above.
posted by ctmf at 7:52 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

You'll probably find, though, that the word that you're the chosen one will be out there via the grapevine sooner than you think. Then you can get slightly more aggressive about suggesting improvements.

On the other hand, it's also smart to promise yourself not to change anything that's not an emergency for [some length of time] when you first take over a position. There's a natural tendency to change things, and sometimes it's better to wait out the 'must change everything' impulse.
posted by ctmf at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2014

You have a lifetime of experience dealing with people to draw on. If people naturally follow you, the transition will be easy because you have already developed the right skills. If they do not, then you need to figure out what works for you. If that's the case, just remember that trying to figure out what works can be the difference between a leader and, say, Bill Lumbergh.
posted by LBJustice at 8:39 PM on January 23, 2014

I see comments sayimg dont start being a leader yet. But why not? Even if you were not being promoted you should try to be a leader of some sort.

Dont you already encourage your colleagues? Dont you already help them with your special areas of strength? Dont you already publicly praise their efforts to help them get positive visibility? That is leadership and teamwork that you can do from any seat.
posted by jander03 at 10:08 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Between now and then, they want me to start transitioning into more of a leadership role."

I've leapfrogged [and been leapfrogged alas] and it's uncomfortable but, not to go all corporate here, if you are the better person for the job then it's for the better.

The transition is their responsibility. Not yours. Have them gradually assign you more leadership tasks.
posted by vapidave at 12:57 AM on January 24, 2014

If you haven't signed anything, you have no promotion. (unfortunately, I say this based on experience)

Focus on keeping your work perfect and not giving your company any reason to change their mind before it is made official.

If your boss has asked to transition into a leadership role, invite your boss to a meeting to discuss how this should happen. The first step could be an official announcement to the team.
posted by jazh at 1:24 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read Kouzes and Pozner on Credibility. It's a great book, the tl:dr of which is that credibility is critical and that it starts with you.

What should you be doing?

- Set an example. Think about the behaviours you want your team to adopt. Do you epitomise them? Show, don't tell (because you can't) what kind of a leader you are.

- Use this time wisely. It is incredibly valuable. Once you're the leader of these people you become the other. Use your time to understand their motivations, values, aspirations, skills, weaknesses. Once you're officially the boss people will not be as candid with you. I don't mean sneak about spying on people and prying. I mean observe and listen extra carefully.

- Have a strategy, but don't carve it in stone. A lead time of several months before you take the job is a management luxury. Cool, you know what and who you are leading. You can think about what you might want to do differently. You can think about plans, draft ideas etc. You need to remain flexible (management is basically how you manage dilemmas - following your mission/being flexible; centralising/decentralising; diversifying/focusing etc etc).

- Manage up. Speak to your boss about their expectations of you over this period, how they see the transition working etc. It sounds like you've got stuff in mind. Commit this to paper.

What shouldn't you be doing?

- Count your chickens. Nothing is confirmed until it is confirmed. Bear that in mind. This holds for you, but also holds for the promise you may make people later in your career.

- Buddying up. I don't mean you need to become aloof and distant. But it may be awkward if you're one of the team, sharing confidences and bitching about management one day and then the next you are management. Think about the situations and conversations you want to exclude yourself from.

- Adopting authority as a proxy for credibility. This is true even when you have the job title. Credibility and authority are distinct. Be careful not to adopt a position where you know best based on [tentative] authority. Especially in a small team, you need these guys to come with you. Hence, work on your credibility. That is leadership.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:01 AM on January 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

With more time to think, I would also suggest you read a professionalism or an ethics book specific to your career field. First, it never hurts to make sure your own backyard is tidy. Second, it will get you thinking how you might resolve issues of professionalism/ethics that will crop up when you have people reporting to you.
posted by 99percentfake at 5:38 AM on January 24, 2014

I've been in a similar spot, or even worse, in a title/position I refer to a the "Kinda_x" where x is "Sales Manager," "Office Manager," "IT Guy," etc. So when you're always referred to by the Big Boss as "He's kinda the IT Guy," that means that whenever they need you, you're the IT Guy, but when you need them to do something they don't want to, well, you're just that stupid guy and what does he know? c.f.: "interim"

In your case, you're the "Not Yet" x, and it's a secret. So on no account should you give an order, and I'd be careful with suggestions, even. Your job for now is to do whatever your current title calls for, and observe what you'd be doing different if you could tell others on this team what to do.

I totally agree with MuffinMan, esp. about "adopting authority as a proxy for credibility." One good thing about having been the "kinda" guy is that I've had to persuade, not push around, and it's helped me learn to lead, not manage. What makes your situation even stickier for now is that if you jump in with both feet now, it might lead to more resentment later on. They'll either figure out that this was planned all along (which is the most likely scenario) and you've been laying low, so you look like sort of a weasel, or they'll start thinking that you started overstepping your bounds and then management decided to reward you. So again, lay low, make plans. If management starts holding you accountable for results where you don't yet have an appropriate title, you can gently but firmly say to them "I'm not their manager yet." It might push them to go ahead and make it official, or at least to announce that effective X date you're the one.

And why wouldn't they go ahead and do that, is the question you need to be asking yourself...
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:45 AM on January 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

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