The Downside of Falling Into Leadership

The Downside of Falling Into Leadership

Your supervisor or manager is leaving. Perhaps she has been promoted, or she decided to retire, or she has found a position elsewhere. Regardless, you were surprised when management called you in and asked you to temporarily fill in for her until a replacement can be hired.

It seemed politically inadvisable to decline the request, and, in truth, you were quite flattered and excited. You want to be a team player, and you think you are a good fit for the permanent position. You readily agreed without asking too many questions. You were told the responsibility would only be for a short time, probably no more than three months, and there was no mention of a salary bump. You assume that will be handled when end of year raises are determined.

You have fallen into a leadership position. Isn’t that lucky? Isn’t it positive?  It can be, but there are several downsides to consider. First of all, a temporary management position is often equivalent to being a place holder or a lame duck. Because of your short tenure, no one expects you to bring about change, even needed change. Instead, everyone assumes the status quo will continue until a new person is hired.

You, and your colleagues, may have difficulty adjusting to the power shift. You are now in charge of assignments and project oversight. You know some of your coworkers skimp on their work effort. Or they come in late, or spend time doing personal business online. Do you call them on their behavior now that you are their supervisor, or do you continue to let it slide? What if one of them acts out, or tries to take advantage of you by slacking off more. Do you write them up or report them to human resources? Is it worth it if you might be coworkers again in a short time?

Is there a growth curve with your new responsibilities? If so, how will that be addressed? Were you offered access to any training or was a mentor indicated? Were any specific short term goals identified or was the scope of your authority spelled out? What type of relationship do you have with your own new supervisor. Will she be helpful or expect you to figure out most things on your own? What if you have a major problem or a failure?

What happens if the appointment drags on for months? If your position isn’t back-filled, is your department working short staffed? Is that having an impact on work productivity and morale? Can the temporary position be re-evaluated at three months? Can a salary increase be negotiated at a certain point?

Those are some of the downsides of falling into a leadership position, but it is not all negative. There can be great opportunity if you are proactive and do some negotiating before you jump in, and if you set the stage for the longer term. The following suggestions may help you turn that temporary leadership position into a permanent one.

Before you accept the temporary position:

•Express your interest in the permanent position and confirm that you can be a candidate even if you are in the temporary leadership role.

•Be bold and ask if a temporary salary adjustment accompanies the increased responsibilities. (Note: Women are reluctant to do this. Men usually aren’t reluctant.)

•Discuss what the scope of your authority will be. Are they actually looking for a leader or simply a caretaker?

•Suggest some short-term goals and ask for a monthly meeting to evaluate your performance.

•Request that an email be sent to staff acknowledging your new leadership role. That makes it formal and should help prevent any misunderstanding.

•Being the leader means setting expectations for staff and distancing yourself a bit from coworker interaction. It also means keeping all confidential information confidential.

•Perhaps most importantly, begin to act like the permanent leader the day you assume the position. That will show others that it is not simply business as usual.

If the position exceeds the expected time frame:

•Write a summary of your achievements to date and include any concerns. Then suggest mutual goals for a second three-month period.

•If the position turns out to be more demanding and requires more of a time commitment than you were expecting, you may wish to revisit the salary increase. This might be particularly important if you are paying additional fees for babysitting or day care or parking.

•Ask for an update on the hiring activities. Confirm that you are still considered a viable candidate.

•If the expanded time frame will require you to complete staff evaluations, meet with your own manager and/or your human resource department for guidance.

•Likewise, if you will be responsible for preparing your department’s annual budget, get some mentoring and assistance. You want to show that you can be a quick study.

If you are offered the permanent position:

•Be positive, but keep in mind you worked hard to prove yourself as the best candidate. Don’t assume — or act like—you were simply the default hire. Since you have performed the job for several months, any probation period should be waived.

• Renegotiate your salary and perks. What you were being paid as the temporary manager is probably not what they would have paid someone else on a permanent basis. Check on other perks that may go with the position—increased vacation time, membership dues, company credit card, etc., and be sure you get them included in the offer.

• If it didn’t happen during the hiring process, ask to have a discussion about your performance in the temporary role so that any areas needing growth and attention can be identified. Then ask to mutually develop a leadership plan for you for the coming year. On-the-job leadership training is good, but becoming an outstanding leader requires some formal training. Make certain you receive it.

•Finally, don’t rest on your laurels. Expand your goals and establish an aggressive work plan. Build on that temporary leadership experience to enhance staff skills, increase department performance, and become a recognized leader in your organization.

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