My job was pretty disgusting. The first time I became a lead person was about 20 years ago. I worked in a facility that laundered hospital scrubs and linens. Think about that, dirty hospital sheets and towels. Let your imagination run wild and I guarantee you won’t be able to think of how nasty this place could get. I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, I worked here because I quit my previous job and needed some cash. The rent wasn’t going to pay itself and this was an easy gig to land. Most of the employees were prisoners on work release programs. I was hired as a laborer right on the spot. The job was pretty easy, but like I said, disgusting. I got along with everybody and had fun working as a wash-man.
Around my third or fourth month of employment, the lead man spot opened up. The previous person doing the job had been promoted to supervisor. Due to the lack of highly skilled workers, I was picked to run the “wash crew” and head up scheduling. Was I proud? I don’t know. I had a pretty good idea that they would pick me. The manager really didn’t have many options. I learned the job quickly, showed up sober and was always on-time. I had also never been to prison. That was good enough for them.
My new job included scheduling the workers, providing supplies to all stations and ensuring the shift finished on time. Easy, right? You know what my biggest challenge was? Getting people to do the work. I thought the people in the washroom would instantly look up to me and respect me, because I was the lead. Why shouldn’t they? They gave my predecessor that respect. Not really the case with me. I thought if I told the guys to do the job like me, everything would be fine. Nope. I figured that if I could get some tips from the other departments, then I would be successful. The tips were always less than insightful and didn’t help at all. Years later, I realized the problem.
I said yes to the promotion and had no clue that being a lead person meant I actually had to lead people. Even worse, I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I was a great individual contributor, but had no idea I needed to motivate others to an expected end. I was very young and wanted to make it work, but had no resources or training. My manager probably had no clue I was struggling, because by the grace of God, I made it work. If I could time warp back 20 years ago, here’s what I would tell myself as a brand new lead person.
1. Schedule time with the manager – Understand the vision for the position as it relates to the goals of the company. Let the company know you need help. It’s ok.
2. Know that folks aren’t going to bow down. – Especially if you were on their level just weeks or days prior. John Maxwell often talks about the levels of leadership and you are most likely a positional leader on day 1.
3. Understand that the employees aren’t you. – They will not have your strengths or ambition. Take time to understand them on a personal level. The best way to influence people is to begin where they are and work up.
4. Build a network of trustworthy accomplices. – Seek mentorship, not advice. Mentorship is the experiences of others presented to you personally for positive growth and enlightenment. Advice can get you hurt.
5. Educate yourself. – Go obtain info on first time supervisor courses and leadership classes. Join blogs like this one or get on youtube. Never before in our history has education been so readily accessible.
Are you here? Are you in a leadership position that isn’t what you thought it would be? Get unstuck! Time to strap in and be about it. It’s up to you. Have faith and believe in your destiny. Make a plan to change your circumstances and move forward. Only you can decide if you can do this. So can you?