Need to Define Your New Work Role Quickly? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have a new boss who just offered me the role of lead for a team I have been on for about seven months. Our former lead (who, frankly, wasn’t great at leading) left suddenly a month ago. In the leadership vacuum I kind of stepped up, and nobody seemed to mind. In fact, the group seemed relieved that someone was doing something.

My new boss has asked me to define my new role. I got excited until I sat down and realized I had no idea how to write this description. Any guidance on this? All my life people have treated me like I know what I am doing even when that isn’t true.

Making it Up


Dear Making it Up,

How exciting! To be able to define your new role is wonderful—and daunting. I think there are a few ways to go at this, and I recommend that you do some or all of them. The main thing you have to remember is to get input.

1. What does your boss expect? What organizational norms do you need to consider?

Ask your boss for an example of what a good job looks like so you know exactly what he means by “define the role.” It is an awfully broad request if you are starting from scratch. A quick Google search offers an overwhelming amount of options. See if you can find out: Is there something wrong with the way the role was previously defined? Does a written description exist that you could build on? Do other areas of the company have team leads—and if so, how are their job descriptions written? It’s all fine and good to essentially make up your own job description, but if there are accepted and tested ways of doing things, there’s no point in your reinventing the wheel. Better to find what has been working well and improve on it if you can.

2. What does your team think?

Ask your team members what they think has been working well so far, and what could change. What things did the last lead do that were good and should be kept? What can you stop doing because it doesn’t work as well anymore, or never worked at all? Don’t promise to do everything they want you to do—but a few of their ideas may inspire you to greatness!

3. What do you want? What is your vision?

You are excited. You stepped into the leadership vacuum because someone needed to, so you must have a natural affinity for taking charge. That is a gift. Think back to leaders you have had and ask yourself which ones were great, and which were not so great. What did the good leaders do that you can replicate? What qualities did they have that you can cultivate and aspire to? What things are the most important for a leader to do, and how would you prioritize those things?

4. Take a class on team leadership.

Of course there is always ours, which covers the basics for structuring how you lead. Our High Performance Teams Model may be helpful to you as you build your ideal role. It prescribes that the team focuses in specific ways at different stages of its development.

  • Align for Results: Clarify team purpose, determine goals and roles, and agree on behavioral norms.
  • Communicate During Conflict: Participate with candor, listen with curiosity, and value diversity.
  • Build Team Cohesion: Work collaboratively, trust and support each other, and hold each other accountable.
  • Sustain High Performance: Share leadership, maintain synergy, and strive for continuous improvement.

5. Gain some organizational insight.

What isn’t covered in any of the above, but is critically important, is this: How will you ensure your team is totally aligned with organizational strategy and with what other teams or departments are doing? How can you make sure you are sharing information upwards and across in a useful way? How can you build connections and stay in the know about what is going on and what is coming? If you need a step-by-step guide on these points, here is an oldie but goodie article. You probably won’t be able to depend on your new boss for all your intel, so if you don’t have a deep network already, you will want to start building one now.

I hope I have provided enough food for thought to get you going. I have a feeling you are going to be just fine. Don’t forget to have some fun while you are at it.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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