Temporary co-managers face tough job

Dear Joan:
I enjoy your articles and find them insightful on problems that can be tough to address. That is why I decided to write to you. Recently, my manager left the company and no one has been brought in to replace him. I am interested in the job and so is another co-worker who has been with the company longer than I have (she has been there 6 years and I have only been there 4).

Our boss has told each of us that we are "in competition" for the job. He has not given a time frame, just that he is considering both of us. Neither one is going to be the formal leader in the interim, which he indicated could be 6 months or more.

This has put us both in an awkward position. He expects both of us to "manage" the work and the people. Fortunately, the work group is small and works well together so they will probably be able to "survive" both of us trying to be co-managers.

This could go on for quite awhile and I'm concerned about the affect this could have on the work group and on my relationship with my co-worker, which up to now has been very good. We haven't discussed this, I only know it because our boss told me he said the same thing to her. Any advice?

Answer:
This very difficult situation is going to be a test of your ability to balance the goals of the company with your own personal goals. There is no doubt that your ability to handle this situation well will have a positive impact on your career.

Let's take the situation apart and form a strategy.

Although your natural tendency in a "competition" may be to win at the expense of your competitor, aggressive actions may be seen as cut- throat and self-serving in this case. If you act too aggressively, you will be perceived as too ambitious. Think of it like this: You're both balancing on the high wire above the crowd. If you purposely try to knock your co-performer off balance and she falls, will the crowd cheer you?

It's important to keep in mind that your co-workers will have tremendous influence over the final decision. Who they choose to follow informally will play a big part in your boss's choice.

On the other hand, if you are so worried about being polite and well liked by everyone that you constantly defer to your co-worker, you will be seen as a follower not a leader. You must step out onto the wire and perform together.

I am impressed with your concern with the well being of the work group during this chaotic time. This is a good sign. Good managers are more concerned about their team than they are about their own glory. Two bosses-especially two ambitious bosses locked in a power struggle-can destroy a team. Nobody wins.

Now, for the strategy: Ask your co-worker to join you for lunch in a private spot where you won't be disturbed. Bring up the situation and acknowledge that it puts both of you in an uncomfortable position.

Say, "I know you don't want to be in this situation any more than I do but we need to work together to get the job done. My idea is that we spend our energy focusing on pulling the team together and achieving results rather than on who's getting credit for what. For example, on all of our memos to our boss, why don't we make it a practice to send them from both of us? In the end, one of us will be working for the other one and I'd like us to emerge from this with our relationship and the team intact. What do you think?"

It's likely that she will be relieved to discuss it openly. After you work through the personal ground rules for how you will cooperate, you can begin to sort out how you will manage the work and the team on a day-to-day basis.

Your team is likely to be preoccupied and anxious about what is going on so you both should meet with them as soon as you have decided how you will work together. The group will settle down to work as soon as they see the two of you have their best interests at heart. If they sense a power struggle, they may spend more time around the water cooler keeping score than at their desks.

If your team hasn't been meeting on a regular basis to solve its own problems, it's time to start. During this transition, there is greater danger of things falling through the cracks and it will be very important to communicate often.

This is not the time for both co-managers to be the experts with all the answers and orders. The team will resent it. Rather, appeal to the group to "pull together" to address problems and stay informed during this leaderless time. Consider posting a blank sheet of paper in a central location so people can add agenda items they wish to bring up at the meetings.

If decisions need to be made, use group consensus to figure out what should be done. Avoid voting. If the group senses that both of you have a different solution, they may feel pressure to choose sides. Encourage everyone to speak up.

Meet with your co-worker on a regular basis to make sure she feels things are running smoothly. If the leader of the group must make some decisions, do it together.

Encourage your boss to meet with both of you to keep you informed. If he shares something with one of you, agree to pass it along to the other one immediately. Information is power and it will need to be shared.

You are in for the learning experience of a lifetime. It is an opportunity to challenge your knowledge of people and test your ability to lead. With a positive strategy, it will be a win/win for all of you.


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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