Making the Transition

by Mark Hennes | Jan 22, 2018

Quote of Note
"Any transition is easier if you believe in yourself and your talent. "
- Priyanka Chopra

The hallmark job for an Army officer’s first decade of services is that of Company Commander. It is your first real opportunity to apply all that you’ve learned about leadership, management and accountability from high atop a 100 person pyramid. As the commander, you are now responsible for the administration, logistics, training, and operations of the organization. You decide policies, determine procedures, and set priorities. You assign jobs, make promotions, approve awards, and even administer a justice system that empowers you to punish wrongdoing by taking away rank and pay.

On the cold winter morning of my second day of company command, I held my first meeting with my new group of officers. As I looked across the table, I realized that my relationship with them had literally changed overnight. I realized that I was now in charge of a group of guys that I had been “pal-ing” around with for the last two years. These were the guys that I went skiing with on the weekends in Austria. These were the guys that I had gone to Oktoberfest with last fall, and had backpacked around the UK with the previous summer (ah, yes, the joys of being stationed in Germany).

But now I’m the boss. I was going to give guidance and direction to those who had once been my peers. I was going to have to enforce discipline and hold accountable those with whom I used to socialize. In one day, I had gone from being one of the guys to being the guy-in-charge.

If you’ve moved up within the same organization, then you’ve faced this transition yourself. Last year, you were a teacher and responsible for your classroom and students. Now, you’re the principal responsible for an entire buildings’ worth of teachers and students. Last year, you sat at the side of the table, taking notes while your superintendent or department chair spoke. This year, all eyes turn to you at the head of the table, ready to take notes when you speak. Last year, you used to complain to others about how it ought to be, now it’s your responsibility to make it so.

To successfully make this transition, first, I encourage you to be honest. You don’t know everything about being the new boss, so you’re going to need some help. You’ll need the loyalty, advice, and assistance of every member of your team to help overcome your knowledge gaps and training weaknesses. You’re going to need their patience and understanding as you progress and make mistakes in your new role, too. So, tell them that. Be open and ask for their assistance.

Second, practice selective memory loss. You probably know something personal or embarrassing about everyone from your previous peer group, but that doesn’t mean that you should remind them of that. You may also have a personal friendship or have a closer relationship with some teammembers rather than others. However, you must appear impartial and keep that relationship private. You should be scrupulous in treating all members of your team the same way, meting out praise and punishment equally as warranted.

Third, practice being the “decider”. You can and should seek out advice and information before making a decision. You can ask for recommendations: “Tammy, what do you think I (or we) should do about this problem?” But you must make the decision: “OK, I agree, let’s do that. I’ll tell the team.” Or, “Jim, would you look at this and get it back to me by Friday?” Instead of: “Jim, I put something on your desk for you to look at.” Giving concise but firm directions takes practice. However, this is an important part of your evolution from peer to leader.

Lastly, embrace the new reality.  The fact of the matter is that you are no longer one of the gang.    You chose to take on the mantle of leadership, so don’t expect that your relationship with your former peers will be the same.  And, that’s probably a good thing, because you are going to have to allocate work, set deadlines, and enforce quality standards, so a bit of separation will be helpful.  Besides, your new role likely will bring you a new set of peers with whom you should get to know.

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