“Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?!” Moment: Your Promotion Isn’t Just About You!

Posted June 6, 2018 in Latest News & Insights

By Gabriella O’Rourke; National Director, Practice Management – Commercial Litigation

In celebration of Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?! hitting shelves, we’ve invited members of The Roundtable community to share their own “did I really sign up for this?!” moments, which we’ll be sharing over the coming weeks. These are times when things have gone to sh*t (been there!), when they’ve thought that perhaps they aren’t cut out to be a leader (ditto!). One is so juicy the author even requested to remain anonymous! We hope you’ll enjoy the candour and vulnerability shown by these amazing leaders.

When you take on a new position, at the same time as figuring out what the leadership team are looking for from you, it’s important to figure out what your direct reports need in order to be successful in their roles.

A few years ago I was the unexpected beneficiary of a shift in my workplace. My former boss was let go while I was on vacation and I received a phone call inviting me to step into a leadership position. The group I would be managing were my peers—mostly Directors and Senior Managers—and distributed across Canada. A team of 15 people in total. I was excited and flattered by the opportunity but also a little trepidatious about what had caused my former boss’s demise. I had not suspected that a move was afoot and to my knowledge she was quite the brilliant strategist and superb people manager, so I was anxious to learn what the expectations were for this role and why they felt a change was needed (for the record I still believe that this former manager is excellent at what she does). I didn’t accept the position immediately. I asked for a week or so to return from vacation, speak to a few people and then decide if the position was for me. When I returned, I tried to learn more about what the leadership team were looking for in the role and what they were hoping I would bring. After a week of what I thought was careful consideration, and long discussions with my husband about what the extra workload might entail, I accepted the position and got started. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

In promoting me to this role without a competitive process, the organization had broken protocol with its own procedures. Others who felt they were well positioned in the succession line felt overlooked and ignored. Some privately wondered if I had somehow manoeuvred myself into the position and that I had even choreographed our former boss’s exit (I hadn’t). A very senior individual who was formerly a close friend and colleague became extremely hostile and seemed to sabotage everything I tried to do to bring the group around. I had taken feedback from the leadership team on what they were looking for from the group and how they would like things to change but I hadn’t established trust within the group that in this new position I would have their back and would advocate for them. The group were feeling very vulnerable. At the time, the organization at large was also going through massive change and people were very concerned for their jobs. I spent about 8 months putting out fires and trying to rally the team to a positive direction but somehow just could never recoup those early days. Part of it was timing and not being set up for success as the organization couldn’t figure out what it wanted from this team, but another part of it was not realizing that as a leader it was important that I made them feel safe and secure while the world about them was in turmoil. It was one of the steepest learning curves of my professional life and one that I have never forgotten.

Now when I take on direct reports I know that the real secret is making sure they can be as successful as possible and understanding the emotional journey they are on, too. I do whatever I can to remove obstacles and to reassure them that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. While understanding the direction that leadership is looking for is important, as a leader I hold the hope and aspirations of my team members in my hands at all times and must balance their needs and the interests of the organization along the way. I didn’t know that’s what I signed up for with my first big leadership role but it’s actually the piece I love the most about what I do now.

Want to share your own “did I REALLY sign up for this?!” moment? Email us here. Don’t have your own copy of Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?! yet? Head over here to grab one!


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