An Early Career Leadership Lesson
January 24, 2022
One of the early mistakes in my career was when I was promoted into a leadership role for the first time.
I was a leader, and I had an eight-member team reporting to me, with three of them managing small teams themselves. So my team structure was like a pyramid- Me on top and my team members below me. (Like in the image below).
While this was my team structure, the mistake I made was to THINK in a Pyramid structure. I conducted myself assuming that people below me work for me and the people below them for them. Therefore, I thought I was responsible for planning, organizing, and evaluating everything that happened in my team while my team members were just supposed to be “responsive” to whatever I wanted them to do.
The problem with this approach was that I became the THINKING manager where I had to think of everything, and my team just followed instructions. So everything in my group started with me deciding what needed to be done and who needed to do it.
I became a significant bottleneck for all execution because everyone in my team was looking for me to provide direction.
I was saved in time from a big disaster when my boss’ boss intervened and told me to think of my team structure like an Inverted pyramid—me at the bottom and my team on the top. So I work for the team and not the other way around.
“Pramod, you think you are responsible for everything that happens in your team and that your team’s job is to be responsive to what you tell them to do. Shift your thinking now and instead assume that your team members individually are responsible for what and how they have to deliver, and your job is to be responsive to what they do. You work hard to provide them with the resources and working conditions that they need to accomplish the goals you have agreed upon. “
This timely mentoring conversation had a powerful impact on shifting my leadership mindset. I realized for the first time after getting into a leadership role that my job was not to do all the thinking and planning work myself and then wait to catch my teammates doing something wrong. Instead, it was to do whatever I had to do to help my teammates win. My job was to serve the individual needs of each of my team members. Through this conversation, I got introduced to the Situational Leadership model, where I could use one of the four leadership styles to support the needs of each of my team members- Directing, Supporting, Coaching, and Delegating.
I learned a powerful leadership lesson that day. In any team setting, the leader works for the people and not the other way around.