In so many situations, every leader thinks, if only I had another chance. However, time travel is not possible, and there are no true do-overs. I probably should also call out that there are no take backs either. Leaders need to learn to be accountable and learn from their past and especially their mistakes. So although I did not get a complete do-over as a leader, I had an opportunity to have my 2.0 approach.
Within two years of being in my post in Oregon, so many things had changed. My two original leaders had both moved on to corporate roles. The site director was new to Oregon and promoted into his role. The site also had a new senior manager who quickly became one of the most challenging people I had ever had to partner in operations. The other support managers were now all new and still working to keep their heads above water. The environment had become a place where performance is the only focus.
My team had changed entirely. Almost every team member was new from when I initially started—having a team where I influenced virtually any hiring decision made a significant difference in their alignment to my vision. My outward approach of being more than just your department was a part of almost every decision we made as a team. The operations managers and I had built a strong rapport, and I had become a trusted peer to most of them. I had a brand new supervisor in our department and a well-experienced analyst who became a trusted confidant. The culture had changed for all of us.
All teams present an opportunity for development. My new team was no different. They needed to develop the emotional intelligence that allowed them to focus on the more significant wins. It is easy for departments like mine to become viewed as a team that is policing the business. This policing creates barriers for business partners and changes how flexible a group is perceived. The other opportunity was how the team partnered with operations teams to contribute to national objectives. This lack of an execution plan prevented the team from contributing at the larger level and show their significant value.
The past can be great for data points and analytics. The past is terrible for emotions within an organization, often shaping long-lasting perceptions. As a leader, I got my introduction to emotional intelligence and understanding how to develop team members to be aware of their social surroundings and the politics that go with them. I had to teach team members how to make decisions on where they disagree with leaders—understanding that the impacts of the decision will impact future concessions and partnership. Taking a genuine servitude relationship and realizing that team member experience is a large part of the department goal. As a team, if we create avenues that make team members happier, their leader’s jobs easier. We could identify a gain in productivity, leveraged in partnering to achieve our own department’s objectives.
Fixing what was first helped in going after the next development opportunity. Building a stronger partnership with operations helped the team in daily management. It required less reaching out and less follow-up from a lack of communication. The improved communication allowed the team to start looking at the business differently and see where they contribute to creating value and the overall return on investment. As a leader, their teams must identify with their purpose and the return on their effort. Teams will struggle without a strong partnership with operational leaders.
To get the results you have never had, you must be willing to do what you have never done, was the mantra of the new site director. For my team, this usually was how we had to go after getting results tied to national performance. I had to teach my team to lean into their partnerships and ask what was needed to get more flexible staffing, ways to increase and decrease as needed. Understanding the needs and the motivations of their teams allows them to meet where they are at—creating unique situations for the one versus blanket approaches. Once the team could see how their effort made a difference, it showed how critical the balance in partnerships was.
Organizations are challenging at times, and new team members can go so many ways to impact culture. The change was needed when the new director came on, and when the senior manager role settled, one would have thought that some norming would start to come into play. It was a challenging place of how to balance respect and keeping a seat at the table. The director was full of charisma and certainly knew how to make it look new. It lacked the true fire that created sustainable results. Unfortunate flashes that might pump you up at the moment but lacked the full to get through the whole journey. Much of this was because he spent too much time in their office. This hideaway of the directors created the divide in what was and was not happening.
The tornado that was the senior manager was my first view into a struggle in power dynamics. Within the organizational hierarchy, this person was above me. On location, my department reported up through the site director, and my leader was a remote senior manager in another location. The new site senior operations leader was drowning daily and would take anyone in reaching distance down with them. When unable to prove you wrong, they would go after your character. Many evenings I would go home wondering what the long-term outcomes would be from my actions that day. I could not always bite my tongue or identify the best response to the efforts of this leader.
Soon the scramble started. It was not just me challenged with this new leader. My peers reported to the senior operations manager. Often my peers were being pulled in two different directions, operating on half-baked expectations. Adding to the chaos, I also got a new boss after some organizational shifting. I knew I had to take some action. It was hard to know what would be the right move. Most of my partnerships are critical in one way or another.
It was time to start providing some feedback. It was hard, but I first tried to sit down with the senior operations manager, calling out where we are putting up roadblocks for each other and how the attacks are not professional. It would change our approach for a couple of weeks but quickly disappear. I met with the director sharing my concerns and challenges, discovering I was not the first. Ultimately the director had spent too much time in their own office. When things go unaddressed, they fester, and the damage is not reversible. The director lacked the leadership courage to take quick action and saw the culture of the site chip away because of it. Trust is hard to build but even harder to re-build once broken.
It summed like things were at a breaking point. I started to think. Eventually, this leader will find a way to ruin me. It was time for our annual trip where all teams in the nation from my department get together. I remember walking into the lobby where everyone gathered when I arrived. My old boss laughing with his peers when I approached he said, “ready to move to Frisco?” Of course, he was joking, wasn’t he?