Q: I’ve worked with my manager for a long time but she is off on maternity leave and being replaced by an interim. What advice can you give?
A: People often find interim managers rather good to work for as they are often highly qualified, give a lot of respect to their team and, best of all, are immune from office politics. You have to help them understand the issues, the priorities and the modus operandi of the business. But don’t be surprised if your new manager takes a very different view on the best way to get things done.
An IM can be a terrific opportunity to learn from a more experienced manager and to tackle issues that should be addressed.
IMs often push their teams to take more responsibilities, encourage them to develop new ways to look at entrenched problems and give them more exposure at senior levels. After all, the IM just wants to get the job done and is very happy for the team to take the credit. Don’t forget the IM’s boss is very aware of the potential pitfalls and will probably check with you that all is well.
Q: I am newly promoted to the board and our meetings seem to be full of people rowing. How can this possibly be helpful? Am I naïve wishing we could all get on together?
A: Yes! The best boards are comfortable about disagreement, comfortable with offering contrary opinions, and comfortable that they know this will improve the quality of decision-making. Harvard Business Review once observed that “complacency is the single-greatest predictor of poor company performance”.
You are new to your company’s boardroom and, you say, the first female director. This should not blind you to the critical importance of contribution to a robust debate. Going with the flow because you don’t want to upset your fellows is now what your newly found seniority requires and certainly not what you were put on the board for.
However, a wise chief executive makes sure that the tough debates are around the things that really matter in a business. My advice is to pick your fights. Always offer your point of view calmly when you hear something being said that you feel is wrong - you only need to dig your heels in when you see the car going over the precipice.
In order to develop your self-confidence, find opportunities to have one-to-ones with your fellow directors and get close to your CEO and finance director to improve your understanding of the strategic fundamentals of your business.
But be very afraid of boardrooms where harmony reigns.