Deal with it!? -
as a senior leader

Deal with it!? Uncertainty as a senior leader

Are you a former department head transitioning into one of those "new" agile shared-leadership roles like e.g. Product Manager, People Manager or System Architect?

Too often you still feel that you really should wing it all! You've been used to make the crucial product decisions, push implementation processes forward, care about technical quality AND support the teams building it? 

You don’t have to do it all alone! 

Rely on your fellow shared-leadership colleagues and show your eagerness to thrive in your new, more focussed leadership role. 

Learn to handle occasional frustrations - and most importantly: deal with uncertainty - by reflecting regularly. 

Pat was a former department head whose organisation decided to adopt SAFe [1] as an operating model for the whole IT branch with product development and professional services. 

Before the transition, Pat was one of the department heads. He was responsible for 50 people in six teams as well as for the service strategy, technical excellence and employee satisfaction. Pat did a pretty ace job and people liked working for him. Services were running smoothly and bug rates were low.

New roles - and: Change!

Now with the organisational transition and the adoption of SAFe, everyone needed to change roles and decide to focus on either product-, technical- or people-and-process leadership. Senior management typically could choose between the SAFe roles System Architect, Release Train Engineer and Product Manager. 

Pat leaned more towards business and service expertise so he decided to apply for and received the Product Manager role. He even kept working with some of his former direct reports. The other lateral leaders on his new team, the System Architect as a technical leader and the Release Train Engineer as the people and processes lead, were new colleagues for him.

So besides the challenges of providing direction and clarity in terms of product strategy, Pat also had to build teamwork in the leadership team from scratch. 

Shared leadership

But did he really have to do it all alone?

No, of course not! 

Nagging thoughts 

Yet, from time to time he had nagging thoughts like “I need to speed up teaming with the System Architect and the Release Train Engineer”. Thoughts like these and fears were mostly triggered e.g. when they as a new leadership team :

Old habits

Sometimes Pat also felt the old urge to micromanage. For example the Product Owners on his Agile Release Train “obviously” needed his help to implement *his* vision of the product strategy.

Moments to breathe

Then Pat took a deep breath, smiled at himself compassionately and sat down with a pen and his notebook. He jotted down all the stuff he currently had in his head. He unloaded all the stuff on a piece of paper that his old habits told him he “had to do”. 

Once his current thoughts, feelings, needs and urges were visible on the paper in front of him he actually had more headspace.

Headspace to decide

Better Decisions

Pat had the headspace to decide:

More focus, less frustrations

Pat then concentrated on the items he needed to drive. 

With that, also his main frustration of getting nothing truly finished since start of the transformation was solved. 

His frustration of having to "deal with each and everything" also decreased immensely. 

Business Reflection to the rescue!

As a busy senior leader in a big organization, Pat already took this notebook always with him. 

One tangible reflection format he started experimenting with looked like this. 

Every morning he opened a new page in his notebook and put four columns on that new page.
He labelled them:

With this new lightweight structure, Pat was prepared to jot down Observations immediately - as well as his Interpretations

At the end of each workday he then took the time to think about Questions he had and possible Options for doing - or deliberately NOT doing.

After a few weeks, Pat's feeling of uncertainty in his new shared-leadership role started to decrease tremendously. 

Furthermore he leveraged his self-agency to ditch some of his old management habits and to even transform them into more useful behaviours.

With just a few minutes of structured written reflection each and every workday, Pat guided those vulnerable "parts" in his mind to a much safer place than before. He won more focus and headspace for better decisions.

[1] No, in this piece I won’t go into detail if/when SAFe is a good idea. If you're interested in that, there are lots of case studies in [2].

[2] SAFe Decision Makers Guide:

Thanks for reading! 😊

I'm Cosima.
I work with teams and organizations who want to achieve more together,
and I coach human beings who want clarity, lightness and power in their (business) life.