Personalities make new leadership job difficult

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Dear Joan:
I thought I would ask your advice about this situation (which may or may not materialize). I'm an IT professional, who has (unsuccessfully) been interviewing for the past one and one half years for a new position (I was outsourced two years ago in the Dallas area, and since have relocated to Wisconsin)
 
Now, I think I am very near to the point of that offer I've been waiting for, but, after interviewing, I am a little bit intimidated (at least based on what I've heard) with the company that may soon make me an offer. (The recruiter indicated I would be a great fit for the company and is arranging an interview for next week). I am one of only two candidates he is presenting for the position.
 
The problem is, I consider myself easy to get along with, yet tough when I need to be. It's my understanding that this is a small IT shop (less than 10 people) with varying "personalities," shall we say, and that I would be replacing a Project Coordinator, who is going to be let go, due to not enough technical skills.
 
So essentially, I would be joining a group of strong "personalities," to assist on keeping projects (that have since derailed and gotten behind) on track and take some of the burden off the CIO. What is my best approach in joining a small group that is already at odds with each other and threatening to bail if they replace this current Project Coordinator? Also, there is at least one Senior IT person (18 years) that they say, no matter how difficult (abrasive) he is to work with; he will most likely never be replaced.
 
Am I naive to think that I may be able to rein in these personalities and keep projects on track, or what would be my best approach to starting in this position? I get the feeling that any bold/sudden approaches upon joining the group is just going to send the group into more of an attitude spin, yet maintaining the status quo will not get the projects on task...
 
Should I forgo this opportunity and hope (though prospects are looking dim) for a less stressful opportunity? Thank you for your advice and insight!
 
Answer:
If you are looking for a perfect team, where everyone gets along and all you have to do is be the technical Yoda, you are in for a very long job search. The only difference between this job, and most other jobs in leadership, is that you happen to know about the issues beforehand.
 
If you don’t have the stomach for dealing with people issues, you need to reconsider your career path. It sounds as if you have the technical skills to get the job done, but do you have the ability to get results through others? Without managerial courage, you could fall victim to the strong personalities. What’s needed is a strong leader, who can chart a vision, set clear expectations, and hold them accountable. You no doubt have the skills to figure out the technical solutions, but without a team who can execute, you will be unable to deliver on your customer promises.
 
If the team is threatening to “bail” because they don’t want their non-technical leader to be replaced, it begs the questions: “What was preventing them from staying on track with their projects?” “Do they like their current leader because he or she didn’t know enough about their work to hold them accountable?” “If they are at odds with one another, is it because some are results-oriented and others aren’t?” If some of them left out of protest, you get the opportunity to replace them with people you choose.
 
Before you take the job, negotiate for clear authority to hire and fire members of the team. Ask direct questions about the source of the team’s issues. Ask about the 18-year employee. Is he untouchable? Ask how much support the CIO is going to give you and if senior management above him will also support you, so you can get the department back on track. If it looks like your hands will be tied, don’t take the job.
 
But if they are really ready to get this team back on track, I suggest the following steps:
 
  1. Interview each member of the team and every key customer. Ask each member of your team to describe what he or she wants out of their job, their career and how they intend to contribute to the team’s results going forward. Ask them what they would like from you. You should spell out what you want from them.
  2. Hold a group session, to identify the goals they want to accomplish together in the next six months. Assign owners and clear timeframes. Prepare to be hands-on until you can sort out what is going on and how to get the projects back on track.
  3. Set up one-on-one meetings with each member of the team each week. Review results, provide coaching and advice and give honest feedback. 
  4. Analyze the priorities, people and resources in the first three months (using the group’s help, where appropriate), and renegotiate with the CIO and/or other senior leaders, if work needs to be reprioritized, or other changes are needed. Before you take the job, get agreement from the CIO that you will take this step, and ask for his support.
  5. Hold on-going problem-solving meetings, where you solicit their input, brainstorm ideas and focus on how to get the work done together. Be enthusiastic and supportive, and recognize their attempts to work together, as well as any progress toward results. Be patient and consistent: “tough love” should guide you.
  6. Hold them accountable and take action against chronic performance problems or behavior problems. Be clear right up front about things you won’t tolerate, such as disrespect or lack of teamwork. You need to demonstrate that you are serious and a strong leader who insists on meeting the needs of the customer with quality outcomes.
This approach should engage the team, set a new direction and provide the incentive to work together. It will take time but it can work.
 
Still interested in the job?


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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