First-Level Leadership: Supervising in the New Organization

First-Level Leadership: Supervising in the New Organization

First-Level Leadership: Supervising in the New Organization

First-Level Leadership: Supervising in the New Organization

Excerpt

ComDel’s Bill Wolter, 30, found out he was leading the project at 5:00 P.M. He’s been a project manager for several important financial reengineering projects. Most recently, he led the team that was responsible for a major systems conversion. Suddenly, he was the project manager for the installation of White River, the management information system that would support the entire financial products division, with two thousand users. Bill knew he was a front-runner for this promotion, the biggest of his career. But even his prior experience in leading large projects did not prepare him for this new job. He has six weeks to assemble the team and get the project scoped and launched, and nine months to get the new system completely installed. This new system is faster, more complete, and more user-friendly than any version before it. Bill talked with me shortly after his promotion. He was nervous about leading the ten-person core project team plus the extended team of several individuals from across the division working with him on a part-time basis. “The pressure is enormous,” Bill said. “As the leader of this team, everyone is looking to me to make things run like clockwork. Every question will come to me. I really feel under the gun to do a great job, or my career might get derailed. You really have to focus your priorities.”

Bill Wolter, in his first management position, has realized that he is much less of a first-level supervisor—his organization needs him to be a first-level leader. What’s the difference? Traditionally, first-level supervisors were expected to plan and monitor work tasks, handle budgeting, manage small projects, and administer policies. But for Wolter and his peers to be successful, they must let go of the image of the leader who knows everything, solves all the problems, and initiates all the new ideas. First-level leaders are responsible for releasing employee energy and talent in pursuit of sustained competitive advantage.

This realization has impacted first-level supervisors in all types of organizations. When training and coaching leaders, I help them reframe their understanding of their role. One of the most frequent messages I deliver goes something like this:

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