Recruitment 411: Lessons of Leadership Part 1 – There’s Always Room for Improvement

This is part one of a three part series where some members of the recruitment office will discuss the rewards and challenges of being a leader. Today’s guest blogger is Jaqi Ross, manager of the media branch.

My staff has heard the refrain so many times, they’ve been known to help finish it off once it starts rolling off my lips – “There’s always room for improvement.” It’s one of many management mantras I’ve adopted over the years, and it’s come in handy as the team learned to embrace continual process improvement. Recently, I had a chance to walk the talk when I agreed to manage a new work group for a couple of months while we searched for a permanent hire.

After two years with my team, I had some anxiety about departing. The group I was joining was almost twice as large as my team, and I worried about giving each employee the attention they deserved. I knew it would be an uphill battle to gain their respect and trust, especially given the short timeframe of the assignment. Adding to the stress was the realization that I wouldn’t be able to keep in touch with my “home” team – there just weren’t enough hours in the day. I was reminded of the many “trust exercises” I’ve done in training classes over the years as I handed over the reins to the manager stepping into my role and hoped my new employees would greet me with open arms.

Entering a new role is always a chaotic experience, but within a couple of weeks, I found my management groove. Every leader has a different approach, and I quickly learned the value of adaptability as I adjusted my style to meet the new team’s needs. My emphasis on coaching towards autonomy was replaced with a commitment to information sharing and communication. The majority of my team was located in offices far from my home base in Washington, DC; I hosted more meetings and had more email traffic than I’d ever seen. It was all worth it to see the team begin to open up and share their feedback and ideas with me as they connected the dots between their day to day work and the organization’s goals.

I also observed from the sidelines as my “regular” staff adapted to their new leader. Employees I used to see several times a week began working from home more frequently, choosing to reduce distractions and gain focus as they reported to a manager several states away. Across the board I found myself impressed with the savvy skills demonstrated by my employees, old and new, as they adapted to a new leader.

Once a manager was hired for my “new” workgroup, I coordinated with her to host one last staff meeting so I could say my goodbyes. I was proud of their growth and work under my leadership, but couldn’t resist reminding them that “there’s always room for improvement.” I have to admit that I was a little proud of myself as well, for stepping out of my comfort zone to take on a challenging new role.

How do we remind people from entry level to upper management, there’s always room for improvement?

Recruitment 411 is the official blog of the IRS Recruitment Office.

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William Boddie

Please discuss if and how you incorporated formal leadership development as an element in the professional development plans for the employees you managed, particularly those employee under 30 years of age

Kara Curry

Great example. Jaqi has a great understanding of the flexibility it takes to be in management. I work with senior managers daily and I see many who feel that it is the employees job to be flexible and adapt to them and their style. In actuality a good manager assesses their team and the business needs and adapts their style to fill that need. They provide support and find ways to make their employees better, not necessarily themselves. Many managers miss this lesson in Managers 101 and are very busy trying to make a name for themselves. Thanks Jaqi.

Jaqi Ross

Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kara. It’s unfortunate that some folks assume they’ve escaped the need to be flexible and responsive when they become managers. I firmly believe that my primary responsibility is to help my team succeed in all that they do, and my ability to do so depends on my ability to adapt to the team’s needs. The best way to make a name for yourself, IMO, is by doing the right thing and delivering real results.

I love your question, William! Younger employees are all too often overlooked when it comes to leadership development; a real shame, since they’re often highly engaged and passionate about their work. While I didn’t focus on leadership development during my temporary assignment, my “regular” staff have all been encouraged to meet with me and set up a learning plan that identifies their interest in developing in specific areas including leadership. I also actively coach employees who I believe have leadership potential, including my younger staff, and provide lots of opportunity to try on leadership roles.