Question: I work in the outbound department of a health insurance company and have recently been promoted from a sales executive [agent] to team leader. If I’m honest, I know I was promoted because I always exceeded my targets. But now I’m finding it difficult to manage the people who were previously working on the same level as me.
I don’t think they resent me for getting the promotion. Everyone seemed genuinely happy for me when it happened. But a couple of months on, they’re not really talking to me when they need help selling. I know I should be more proactive, but I don’t know where or how to start. I’ve tried talking to my boss to get her advice, but she keeps saying that it takes time to build trust and that people will start coming to me eventually. It’s frustrating though. At the moment all I feel I’m doing is paperwork. Is there something I can do to turn things round?
Courtesy of Nick Drake-Knight, author and freelance writer.
In many organisations top performers are promoted in to leadership roles. The challenge for newly promoted leaders is that excellent performance in a functional role has very little in common with the management and leadership of people.
The starting point for a promoted first-time leader is to understand the nature of your new role. The dynamics operating within the work group will inevitably have shifted as a result of your new position. Initial congratulations were for you as a friend and colleague. The relationship that exists now is different. Authority has emerged as a factor, and your boss is right: trust will take time.
The functions of management and leadership are as much about understanding people as they are about technical parts of the job. Relationship management is a critical success factor, and your relationships have now changed as a result of your promotion. Your team members will inevitably feel different about their relationship with you. This will impact on the way they communicate (or not!) with you.
A key learning point for a new leader is to recognise the difference between ‘topic’ and ‘relationship’ communication. When people communicate with line managers, peers or direct reports, there are two very different communication activities underway.
The first is the ‘topic’: that is, the subject matter being discussed. Let’s say the topic is ‘sales targets’. At the same time as this surface level discussion is taking place, a much more profound activity is underway in the form of an internal dialogue within each communicator. Typically, they are discussing with themselves: “What does this discussion mean for my relationship with this person? Are we strengthening our relationship or weakening it?”
This fundamental awareness is important for understanding the ‘maps of the territory’ that each of your team members has at the moment. How might they be feeling about you as ‘boss’? Unless you are a mind reader, it is unlikely that you know with accuracy.
You say that “They’re not really talking to me when they need help selling”. This suggests resistance to openness and there is a reason for this, which rests within the minds of the team members. The question for you is: “What is the reason for their resistance?”
You also say that you should “be more proactive”. Only when you have an understanding of the thinking of your people can you begin to take appropriate action. Covey had it right when he proposed his fifth habit: “Seek first to understand, and then be understood”.
There is one simple strategy to adopt in such circumstances: ask them.
Keep in touch (KIT) meetings are great for exploring work issues informally, especially when they are held off-site. The secret is to keep KITs informal and free-flowing. If the atmosphere is relaxed, office dynamics will usually crop up in conversation. Make KITs a regular part of your leadership style and ‘the way we do things round here’. Believe me, the trust will soon come.
Who within your team do you feel most comfortable with? Approach them first and take them out for a coffee KIT, or lunch KIT and explain how you are feeling in your new role, and that you value their support and opinions. You may be surprised what emerges from your cosy chat.
Courtesy of Mike Purvis, managing director at the outsourcer Transcom UK (www.transcom.com)
Dear frustrated,Your boss is right.Moving up the ranks from sales executive to team leader places you in a strong position to advise and motivate others. Success as a sales executive and exceeding your targets implies you have a strong sense of dedication and hard work, which inevitably induced a certain level of respect among your peers.Your job now has to be to transfer and maximise that same sense of authority to your current position as team leader, so build on your known strengths: focus, empathy, resilience and persuasion.
One of the misconceptions of the duties of a team leader is that he or she is responsible for leading a team. Don’t think of them as a team. Think of them as a collection of individuals who each have to be managed, supervised and motivated.
Being an ex-sales executive gives you an upper-hand in knowing their jobs; use your awareness of each member’s work-style preferences, strengths and weaknesses. Only by working with each unique employee will your employees work with you and with each other to produce an efficient and enjoyable working environment.
Ultimately, the duty of the team leader is to serve his or her employees. Never forget that while the team will be relying on you to provide guidance, you also need your team’s knowledge. Don’t waste your time waiting for them to come to you for advice. Rather, set up situations where you know your advice will be helpful, and offer it with humility.
The relevance of Lao-Tse’s words, written over 2,500 years ago, resonate with an undeniable truth: “A leader is best when people barely know his presence”.
The trick seems to be to care, support and train each individual employee, but not let them in on your role as carer, supporter and trainer. If you can be a valuable mentor to each of them, you will be valuable to all of them. Perhaps then the mountains of paperwork will start to retreat and you’ll remember why you wanted this promotion.