158 - Managing yourself during a transition


career design

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he swooped in like a hero. He didn’t wait to assess things, didn’t talk to the old-timers to get a sense of the history, he only saw fires that he wanted to put out.

So that it’s not left to anyone’s imagination, Musk probably defaults to a heroic style of leadership.

There’s another style of leadership that is very different and effective when applied to the right situation. It’s servant leadership. Listen, absorb, include, execute.

Which leadership style is better? It depends. Depends on the situation you’re trying to manage as a leader.

In 2021, I made the mistake of being too much of a servant leader when the situation perhaps demanded the decisiveness and authority of a heroic leader. I was leading a brilliant team that was building a smart writing assistant for scientists. The world was opening up post the pandemic and things were changing quickly both in the market outside and in the team. My tendency to build a shared understanding and be systematic while taking key decisions in such an environment held back progress and later on cost me my position.

My approach perhaps would have been a better fit in a business situation where the core challenge was to sustain success instead of to build something from scratch. So, what can I tell you from my experience?

There’s no one approach that fits all situations. Match your approach to the situation. The two most important things to that end:

1️⃣Identify the prevailing situation. Business literature has five recurring situation types with self-explanatory names: start-up, turnaround, accelerating growth, realignment, and sustaining success. The needs of the group you’re managing will vary with the situation type. Identify the situation at the appropriate level for you. (I was the business owner for this product line; you may be higher or lower)

2️⃣Identify your own default style. (For me it was servant leadership). Figuring this out will help you see if you need to adapt yourself or you can be your natural self. Funnily, I made this discovery about my own style recently when I was helping someone navigate a big career transition.

I’ll leave you to decide which of the two is easier to do.

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