I remember Mum and Dad’s reaction. They were so proud. For a moment I thought Mum was going to cry. Again. Truth is, I was proud as well because it’s a pretty big deal. I’m one of the youngest team leaders in the company. Sixteen months in a row I hit my project deadlines. I didn’t know it know it at the time, but that was unheard of. And this is my reward.
Me, a leader? I can barely lead myself. It all happened so quickly. One minute I’ve got my own project to worry about, the next I’ve got a massive team projects on my shoulders. That’s a big enough responsibility but then there’s the team. Four of them are good friends and one, if I’m honest is someone I’ve never really got on with. She’s sarcastically called me ‘boss’ a couple of times which I don’t really know how to handle.
I’m less worried about her, it’s the other four. The four I go drinking with. The four that are my best mates here. Now they’re asking me to approve holidays. And they’re all looking to me for direction. What makes it worse is that one of them is really struggling to finish jobs on time. His performance is the worst in the company. And, his attitude isn’t any better. He’s told me as his mate that he wants to be anywhere but here. I don’t know what to do.
And then, there are the meetings. I have a weekly meeting with my manager, a meetings with all my fellow team leaders and then, there are the meetings with my team. Those are the worst, but the truth is I hate all of them. Actually hates a bit strong. I feel like I’m being judged in every single meeting. There are things I want to say, but I can’t. By the time I’ve thought about the thought, the moment has gone and we’re onto another topic.
I don’t feel I can tell my boss how I really feel. I’ve asked for some advice a couple of times and although she’s pleasant enough, I always get the feeling I’m keeping her from something else.
And here’s the truth. I wish I was just Dean the technical guy again. I wish I was doing what I was really good at because now I just feel out of my depth. And the worst thing, I can’t tell anyone. I’d usually tell my mates, but everything’s changed. I can’t show weakness. I guess I just need to keep going and figure it out for myself.
The scores on the board don’t look great. It’s been another less than stellar month and it’s fair to say the pressure from my boss and his boss have intensified over the last few weeks. It doesn’t help that Dean, our best technical guy has stepped up to become Team Leader. He’s a brilliant technician. A total natural, but as a Team Leader, he’s got some way to go. Maybe I was naive, but I thought he’d hit the ground running.
Maybe that’s unfair. He’s young. But I thought he’d inspire his team and that some of his natural can do talent would rub off on them. He seems to have lost a bit of his spark. It just feels like he’s retreated into himself a bit. He actually looks scared, especially in meetings. It’s all a bit ‘rabbit in the headlights’ if you know what I mean.
I suppose it will take time. He’s just a kid and I can remember what it was like when I was his age. I’d love to spend more time with him and take him under my wing. But I can’t, Dean’s just one of six team leaders that report into me. I think he could become the best of the bunch, but my problems don’t begin and end with Dean.
One team leader has handed their notice in. He’s leaving for one of our competitors because it’s a step up in responsibility. And he gets more money. And another just handed in a sick line. She’s going to be off for a month. Something to do with her back. Again. And that means that I have to manage her team of seven. The net result, I’ve gone from six direct reports to 13. And all the Leadership Team are really concerned about is the bottom line and project completions.
Unless results improve, the pressure is only going to increase on all of us. The atmosphere has definitely changed and morale is on the decline. We’ll get through this, but I need everyone to be stepping up to the plate and delivering more.
So, as much as I’d like to, there genuinely isn’t any room under my wing to fit Dean. Listen, he’ll be fine. Tony, our Learning & Development manager is on the case. He’s already taken him through his induction. He sees what I see. Dean is someone with genuine potential. I’ve asked him to work his magic and see what he can do to support Dean more.
I love what I do. But it’s definitely getting harder to make the impact I want. Although we’ve got a pretty big HR department, the L&D team is a team of one – me. I’m juggling the usual compliance, policies and induction piece with the more personal development focussed work. The vision was always to be spending three quarters of my time on developing our people, but, if I’m honest, it’s gone entirely the other way.
Maybe I’m a naive idealist, but supporting the team and helping them develop was always what I wanted. It was the barometer of success. If we could promote from within, then I felt my job was done. If someone I’d worked with was able to take those skills, apply them and get recognised then I’d feel good in some way for the small part I played in that success.
Take Dean for example. Great kid, great technical skills and he’s got all the makings of a real star for the business. He’s now our newest team leader. The focus with his induction has been to teach him the policies he needs to run his team. So far, I’ve taken Dean through sessions covering our Performance Reviews, Safety Regs, Grievance and IT policies etc. He’s also got a session lined up to learn about our project management system.
He’ll get the opportunity to complete a management course, but that’ll be 6 months down the line. In the meantime Dean’s boss Claire has asked me to ‘work my magic’ because she feels like he’s struggling a bit. My mission is to boost his confidence. I’ve scheduled a session with him for 3 weeks time. My immediate focus is launching a technical competency training programme.
I suggested to Claire that she could coach Dean in the short term but she’s too busy. This is something we’ve talked about before; setting up our own coaching programme. Each new manager or team leader would be assigned an experienced manager to support them. We first talked about it 18 months ago, but, it’s just not a priority right now. Never mind the fact that we’d need to train the managers on some fundamental coaching and mentoring skills.
I’m sure Dean will be fine for 3 weeks. He’s a smart kid, he just needs to have a bit more self-belief and rediscover the spark that made him our top technician.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Connect with me and share your story and aspirations.