Forewarned is forearmed–or so the saying goes. And so when I took up my new position I had extensive meetings with the outgoing director. She walked me through the major responsibilities of the job, highlighted the most pressing current issues and concerns, and discussed the staff that I was about to be working with daily.
Truth be told, it was the last item that interested me the most. I had previously supervised two people and would now be supervising four. These two staff people were without controversy or trouble. I was nervous about working with people I had never worked with before and apprehensive about working with an even (modestly) larger staff. So I welcomed any insights and advice she had to offer about these four people.
I quickly regretted my eagerness and wondered if sometimes it wasn’t better to not know things. Let me explain.
My colleague told me many things about the staff I was about to supervise. Problems with tardiness and a reluctance to do certain things. Long-standing interpersonal friction between staff members. And so I steeled myself–ready to stamp out bad behavior and unwilling to brook personality conflicts within the office.
And then a funny thing happened. I saw little or no evidence of the problems she had described. There were a few tiny bumps in the road, but overall, the office ran smoothly. At first I credited a kind of honeymoon period, with the staff trying to be on their best behavior. But now, ten weeks in, I think it’s something else.
I think my ten-week experience is the result of a difference in management styles. I respect my predecessor in this position, but she managed the staff differently and I think some of her management style contributed to the problems and conflict. More importantly for me, is that I discovered I had a management style that worked (more on this in a future post). Having only ever managed one office before, I felt largely untested. But it turns out that clear expectations, communicated with a light touch have gone a long way to minimizing trouble. Early on, I did stumble. But this was because I was expecting the worst from the staff, based on my predecessor’s comments. Hence, the title of this blog post. I might have been better off not knowing these things about the staff.
But in truth I’m not actually saying that I would have done things differently. Part of my orientation to my new position needed to include information about the staff. However, the lessons I have learned are to consider the source and to have faith in my own management skills. And I’m not saying there won’t be problems in the future and that my leadership won’t be tested. But going forward I will manage the information I receive about my staff carefully, withholding judgement and resisting the temptation to make too many assumptions, and worse yet, decisions, based on that information.