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