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No. 11 – I’m a new leader at my organisation. How can I make an impact?

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28 April 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, growing in a leadership position, an overstepping boss, and crying during an interview are all on deck.

For the majority of my career I have been a coder. As a strong introvert, I’ve never wanted to deal with people but have recently been given my first taste of leading other people. I have since been told I am a natural leader and I’m actually finding I prefer it to coding. What are your tips for new leaders to help them to grow?

It can’t have been easy to move out of your comfort zone, so I am glad it has worked out so well for you and your team. Congratulations.

First, be sure you are seeking out and being open to feedback. That includes feedback from the people you are leading, as well as your peers and supervisors. Feedback is a generous gift and while it may sometimes be hard to hear, being prepared to listen to it with an open mind and take from it the lessons for next time will help you become a much better leader.

Second, listening and collaborating with your team is incredibly important but also don’t forget to act and be decisive when you need to be. Being decisive – in the right way and at the right time – is critical and your team will be looking to you for that.

Third, you are going to make mistakes as a leader and there are going to be plenty of things you wish you could do differently. The important thing is to be prepared to say you have made a mistake if you need to, learn from it and move on.

My boss works long hours and emails me late into the night. It makes me feel like I constantly need to check my phone and that I never get any time to switch off. It is making me really stressed and affecting my family life. I love my job and don’t want to lose it. How do I address this with him?

This is a serious cultural issue within organisations that will ultimately lead to burnout and people like yourself choosing to leave jobs they love.

You might like to have a chat with your boss one on one to ask him what his expectations are when he sends emails in the middle of the night. He may be completely unaware of the impact it is having and be surprised to know that you see them as a stressful issue. You could ask that he make it clear that there is no expectation that anyone responds until the working day begins.

It is also worth seeing whether there is an opportunity as a team to talk about some of the ground rules for working together. Culture is all about “the way we do things around here” and if you are feeling the way you do, there will be other team members feeling similarly.

During a recent job interview I started crying when asked about a recent work absence in my CV. I didn’t get the job and although I asked for feedback, I was told there was a more suitable candidate. I’m worried that it was because I cried. In future, should I make something up about why I had time off rather than tell the truth (it was due to a health issue) and risk getting emotional?

I’m afraid there is rarely going to be a positive outcome if you cry in a job interview.

Even if you are wanting to work in the most caring organisation, the connection between you and the company has not been built yet and so the person who is interviewing you is going to be assessing you to understand how capable you might be for the challenges of the role. If you avoid answering a question or make something up about a gap in your CV, and then cry, that is just never going to go well.

My advice is to always be honest and if you’re not feeling that you can talk about this particular issue without getting emotional, it may be that you are not ready to return to work just yet.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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