Before you know what you are doing you’re expected to know what you
are doing, so you have no choice but to wing it. It happened to me. As
part of a cost cutting senior management restructuring I found my self
with a new job title, an increased span of responsibility and a range
of services I had no previous experience of. I was confident my people
management and budget management skills were transferable. I was still
working for the same organisation so I knew the culture. I even had
the same boss.
What I didn’t know was what I needed to know.
My new management team had expectations, they had critical
meetings with funding agencies in the diary, they had draft budget
strategies requiring their new manager‘s approval and they had anxious
partner agencies waiting for answers. It was clear that my
presence/participation was expected to provide reassuring, confidence
building, knowledgeable leadership. I was the face of the organisation
and it needed to be a credible one.
The time table was impossibly short, driven by the budget process and
non negotiable deadlines. Pre meeting briefings often took place only
half an hour beforehand. Time only for minimal historical background,
identification of key individuals, clarification of counterparts
likely objectives and the sketchiest of tactics. Tactics which
basically consisted of me looking to team members to answer the
detailed questions whilst I nodded my approval. I had to appear to be
in control, fully in command of my brief preferably with an air of
gravitas. In other words I had to wing it.
Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come up. It can be very
uncomfortable. You just have to think on your feet, use all your
experience and look to others to fill in your gaps. Most of us can do
it, sometimes more convincingly than others but winging it can not
become a way of life, inevitably the senior manager who does not know
their brief will find themselves embarrassingly exposed.
After those initial round of meetings I had a much better idea of
what I needed to know, and what questions I needed to ask. I did my
home work, got to grips with the detail, made sure I was thoroughly
prepared for meetings and hardly ever had to wing it again.
Blair McPherson former Director ,author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co