Workplace Doctor: boss has thrown me in the deep end with new division

I have a new job setting up a new division in my company, with a great boss and a great team. The problem is that it’s my first management position and I assumed that my boss, the managing director of the company would offer me more guidance. Instead he’s very hands-off, telling me all the time that he “trusts my judgment”. This is mainly because I am a specialist in my field, whereas he is there to oversee the whole company. This makes me nervous, as I don’t always trust my own judgment. Do I just run with it or ask for more guidance? IM, Dubai

This is perfectly natural when starting a new role, as you will want to make sense of the company, your own skill set and the value you bring. This is also the case for many experienced managers and leaders who often find the “socialisation” within a company a challenge, as they are not only making sense of their own contribution, but also trying to adapt to “the way things are done around here”.

As this is your first managerial position, I imagine this feeling may be even stronger in you. In my work with managers I always encourage them to be mindful of the distinct transition into managing people, as the way you manage your time, interact with others and delegate tasks differs to operating as an individual contributor. Therefore, it is useful to have some coaching and mentoring during this initial period. Alternatively, there may be colleagues you can approach to find out how the organisation operates.

This step from specialist into management and leadership often requires a completely different skill set and also means you may not always be the expert in all areas. It seems your manager is taking this approach and adopting a leadership style that provides you with some autonomy and responsibility. If this approach were taken a year into your role it would be completely appropriate and help to ensure you thrive. However, as you are still getting to grips with the organisation and the division itself, it may be that you need feedback on your performance, as well as getting a steer from your manager about whether or not you are heading in the right direction. This will require a more hands-on leadership style from him.

It may be useful to discuss this with your manager. Explain that while you are comfortable with the specialist aspects of your role and can guide your team, you would like feedback on your approach to the managerial aspects of your role, such as developing a strategy and goals for your division, performance management, team issues and the delivery of results through others. As he oversees an entire operation he will have experience of managing people and projects that you could really utilise. This will show him that the skills he recruited you for (your specialist knowledge) are being put to good use and that you are really motivated to develop a new skill set and get the most out of your team. You may also want to consult your HR representative to find out what training and support is available.

Don’t forget, the managing director is not a mind reader and although he has taken a hands-off approach, he may have assumed that you are comfortable with both the technical and the managerial aspects of the role. Consider scheduling a regular meeting with him to update him on progress, give him feedback and seek advice. This will allow you to share your experience, plans and insights.

Doctor’s prescription

The way you are feeling right now is natural. In the long term you will need to learn to trust your judgment, but at the moment you are working out how you can best contribute to the organisation, as well as lead a team and division for the first time. Your boss’s leadership style is one you will value a few months down the line, but you need a bit more guidance on certain managerial aspects. The trick is to ask for support while clearly conveying your specialist knowledge.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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