Is This the Job I Signed Up For?
Date: February 7th, 2011
Post by Steve Crandall
In my workshops it is common to see new managers in attendance. I see that they often have mixed feelings about their positions – excitement for the new opportunity, a bit of fear and uncertainty about the future, and sometimes a bit of pride about their new authority and status. If they have been in the job a while – even if just a short time – they are also often dismayed at the amount of time they spend on dealing with problems. They are hoping that leadership training will teach them how to eliminate these problems that take up so much of their time.
For them, I like to relate the story of a colleague of mine who not too long ago left his company for a new opportunity. The job was General Manager of a national distribution company; a totally different industry in a different part of the country. We are good friends, and for the first few months of his new job, I would periodically call him just to see how he was doing. Each time I would call, he would relate a laundry list of crises – strikes on the west coast, breakdowns in Atlanta, high risk of losing a key account – the list was always long. But he is an optimistic sort, and he would always close with a version of “but if I can just get these things under control, I should be ok!” Each time I called, there would be the list – different items, but just as pressing – and his declaration that once solved things would be fine. (and of course…I love the guy, but I have my own problems – how long did I want to hearhis list??)
Then, about a year after taking this job, I checked in to see how things were. To my surprise he said things were great, and didn’t volunteer any list of problems at all. I told him that he sounded different, more confident – but surely there must be a lot on his plate as usual. He said there was, but he recently had experienced an “epiphany”. Do tell! “Well, I woke up a few days ago and realized that THIS IS THE JOB. Up until now I’ve been trying to figure out how to deflect the problems, how to get in a position where there aren’t any, how to avoid the “bad news.” And then I realized that if that were ever to be the case, they wouldn’t need me; that the reason my job exists is to solve problems. Now that I understand that, I not only come to work ready to do my job and do the best I can to solve the problems that come up, but also to look around the corner in anticipation of the ones that are coming! This also helps me learn from them so hopefully they are not repeated – but there is no shortage of new ones coming my way.”
The lesson is this: A leader’s real job is that of problem solving. It is why we have bosses – not just to direct others, or sit around thinking great thoughts…it is to fix things when they are broken and to lead others so there is a common path – so people can perform their tasks in the best environment available.
My class participants somehow become relieved and anxious at the same time when they hear this story. Relieved because they see they have common company in this new role. Anxious because somehow no one told them that this is what they signed up for…
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