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  • Dr. Julie Olsen

Whack a Frog Anyone?


Game on! Recently, I traveled to New Jersey to help a dear friend with her two grandbabies. It’s been a while since my girls were little so I knew I was in for an adventure. My friend provided a compelling proposition by referring to my potential visit as the Diaper Duty Days! Of course, who could resist? Well…perhaps it was more the opportunity to spend time with a great friend that ultimately persuaded me to take the trip.


One morning, we were in the playhouse enjoying a few games and we started playing Whack a Frog. You might have played it before. It’s a cute plastic frog with 10 frogs in the center. Each time a frog lights up (in no particular order), your job is to “whack” it with the provided mallet and hit as many frogs as possible. Perhaps due to my competitive nature, I accepted the challenge with excitement.


After a few rounds, I realized this game was a microcosm of my first move into a leadership role. If you have ever been in a leadership role, I’m sure you have been there. Each day seems to bring plenty of unexpected challenges that need to be addressed and you feel as if all you are doing most of the day is whacking frogs.


As you make the move from individual contributor to leader, many shifts need to be made. One mindset change is to move from you being the one that has to take care of every issue, to now understanding you are responsible to obtain outcomes, including inspiring others to get results. Although in most roles there will be plenty of “frogs” to whack, you may not have to be the one to attack every challenge. Ask yourself, "Is there an appropriate person with whom I can pass along the “mallet”? "Is there someone who can grow through this experience?" You can be developing talent while giving yourself time to focus on the areas where only you can make a difference. Here are five tips that will provide a focus for you as a leader, especially in your first three months.


1. As you begin thinking about yourself in a leadership position, ask, “What is my goal?” “What do I want to accomplish as a leader?” Then ask, “What is the point of a leader?” or “Why am I in a leadership position in the first place?” “How is this position different from my frontline position?” Identify the most important and valued added service you will be providing.


2. Define your relationships with your team members. When moving into a leadership role, some of your relationships may need to change; that can be done by establishing clear boundaries up front as well as sharing your new focus. Most likely, you will be giving up some of your previous responsibilities. If you are promoted from within and you have a close friend on the team, you may need to have a conversation clarifying your new role, along with boundaries, and how it may change the relationship dynamics. Additionally, to avoid the perception of favoritism, you may also need to have the conversation at a team meeting.


3. Assess and learn before making major changes. Spend time learning about the individual team members, the overall processes of the department, and the organizational expectations of the department. Determine how to apply your skills to enhance the team and build rapport while accomplishing the team goals. This step can help you determine who might be the right person to accept the “mallet”.


4. Develop a relationship with a peer. Find a trusted peer who can support you in your new role, provide advice on what you might delegate, someone who will listen to your ideas and provide honest feedback, as well as help you navigate the organizational processes and culture. And remember, as with any relationship, when someone has invested their time in you, be ready to reciprocate.


5. Flex your leadership style. Each team has unique dynamics and requires a leader who understands how to leverage their strengths. Begin by assessing the team and then think critically about yourself, your team members, department needs, and the culture of the organization. Understand that every team member will approach challenges differently, have different comfort levels with the work pace, communicate differently, and have different motivations. These differences should not be a reason to hold onto the “mallet”. Understanding how you, as well as your team members, prefer to operate will help you to flex your leadership style as appropriate and determine who can help address the unexpected challenges.


John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” In essence, a leader is good at seeing the potential in people and pulling out the best in them. That often requires trust and delegation. There’s not one cookie-cutter idea of leadership, and people with different personalities can be exceptional leaders. You need to experiment, find your style, and leverage it for your success and the success of the organization.


For additional resources on building your leadership potential, visit www.workplaceadvancement.com