I was only 22 years old when I became a team leader for an IT support team of 160 people and didn’t know much about intuitive decision making. They chose me for different reasons and so I started my journey in personal management. We were a team of 5 team leaders that each had their own team of about 35 people with special tasks or skills.
But we were each responsible for the whole team with our special tasks, too. So I was responsible for the process management, the personal management including shift- and vacation planning and later for the training management and the external crisis & complaint management.
1| I was a woman.
You might think “Why should that be a problem?” – well please let me tell you. As a woman in a mostly men-dominating area, you probably have to deal with this unpleasant thing called:
Gender discrimination. I was not being taken seriously as a team leader, was discriminated for my clothes (it was a business dress code set for everyone, so I just looked like any other businesswoman would look like), was called names (mousey, doll, cherry – well where I am from there are many cute sounding but discriminating nicknames that you can call a woman), I was ignored and told that I have nothing to do there and I should better leave – because I am a woman.
2| I was young.
In comparison to my team lead colleagues I was only 22years old. My team lead colleagues were at least over 30 and the youngest in my team was our apprentice with 19 years. Everyone else was 35+.
Because of my age, people thought I was never able to lead a team. I got hired to help finish the internal crisis and help get better work conditions for the team. The team was working tremendous over hours, mostly unpaid, and vacation times was blocked already for a while.
I was there to change this for a better and improve processes so that the ticket crisis within the team would be improved. But none of the employees believed I was able to do so. My boss believed in me, obviously because he hired me. But I think he was the only person for quite some time.
3| I HAD NO EXPERIENCE IN IT BEFORE
Oh wow, never did I think that THIS would become one of my biggest issues.
I truly thought people would understand the difference between a technical team lead (we had 2 of them) and a personal management team lead (we had 3, one of them was me). But they didn’t.
4| Discrimination. Or was it more?
So much so that at time it felt like racism.
I am from Germany. East-Germany to be precise. I was born just 3 years before the wall came down and all I remember is, that it was not only David Hasselhoff who was looking for freedom.
You see, I have no idea what life was about in the German Democratic Republic. You could barely even call me a “DDR-Bürger” (citizen of the GDR). But I was standing in that company and got extremely discriminating (almost racist) comments about being “East-German”, 18 years after Germany was already reunited.
I was asked if I wanted a banana (for almost 3 months daily) or was called a monkey, now that surely I must have a whole bunch of them at home – “because I never had bananas before”.
I was also asked if they should read out the news to me, because “in the valley of the unknown” (my home town’s nickname) there was no such a thing as news and education and I must be super stupid.
Rule number 1: Always be transparent.
Problem Solving – My way
I was never lying to anyone about my age, my previous positions or experiences and never tried to be someone I wasn’t. I would honestly answer people’s questions and when someone asked me about IT and I didn’t know the answer, I said I wasn’t sure but would like to find out for them – and I always did.
He searched for other team leads to be around but it was my shift and I saw he was struggling so I went over and asked if I could help him. The customer was an English speaking person which was no problem for me but he was screaming at him and the agent got frustrated and didn’t know how to get out of this situation.
Intuition as a solution
So what did my intuition tell me in this situation? It told me to go, break that “role-play” between him and me that he had set up and helped him out. This whole scenario changed the direction of how we worked together in the future. I think especially that I didn’t come back at him with things like “See, I knew I can help you. What would you do without me? I am glad I could help you” or other pointless boss-talk helped a lot.
Keeping your head high will save your face
There are some similar stories when I helped out agents in my team, that have been discriminating me before and stopped after I helped them. Especially when I saved their jobs, I didn’t use it as a weapon against them but instead they would hear about it from my boss.
Intuition as a Leadership tool
The main factor for me was, trusting my intuition. I was trying to imagine myself working there for that many years, like my team did, and tried to understand their requirements. As I had to change the whole process management, create new structures, rules and management tools as well as implement all of this I had to listen to my intuitive feeling of what was best.
I used all the knowledge I gained from listening to my team, watching them work, sitting next to each one of them for at least half an hour to see how they work and what tools etc. are missing but when it come to a decision to choose a tool, to decide how to create a process, I was following my intuition combined with my knowledge I gathered in my studies & throughout the experiences I made being on the floor all day, every day.
Leader create Leaders
Why did I do that? With only 22 years old you might think I had no work experience whatsoever. But that’s not true. I started working at the young age of 13 and worked ever since. I had plenty of experiences with bosses and managers by that time already and believe me I didn’t like the ones who were very political, strategical and bossy.
Yes, sometimes one has to be strict and keep the discipline up, especially in a company like we were working for, where we had to match KPIs every single day, to not pay penalties. But I still always preferred the managers who would go with their gut feeling, their intuition. The ones who were honest and straight forward. The transparent ones. If they were kind as well I would love them. But you can’t have it all, can you?
So why using intuition?
My second project with this company above was for the world famous leader in computer and phones. We built a sales and service online support centre and needed to recruit 140 people in only 4 weeks. So we split the recruiting process between me and a colleague that was hired from extern. We were sitting together in a meeting, talking about the requirements and what we want to look out for in an applicant.
He told me he has done oh so many recruiting processes he knows what he is doing. My gut feeling told me that he is surely good in his job but I felt like there could be some issues with that whole thing. I offered to do the whole recruiting as a team so that we can decide on the team members together, as it would be me who is going to work with them later on. But he rejected that idea and referred to the short time frame. 2 weeks later we met again. He had already hired the 40 people he was supposed to find during the first week. I was surprised. I was through my 2 weeks and have just on point filled half of my spots
Where the real magic is
After the 1st month of training, the project finally started and both teams got together to be one big team. My part of the team was getting along quite well, besides the usual quarrels, while the part my colleague has hired had some troubles. We had 2 of them leaving just a months later, some small dramas to be cleared and one that we had to let go. When I called him to talk about them, he said: “Ah that’s a shame, but I kinda thought they might not last long I had a feeling when I hired them”. So here we go. He had an intuition about those who had to go, already when he hired them – and he still did.
Intuition is more than just a feeling. It is the ability to understand or know something immediately, without evidence, without knowledge or the need for conscious reasoning. In simple words: we unconsciously know what is right. Now isn’t that magic?
Where the real magic is
At one of the yearly huge sales days, we had about 7 people in the team being sick with the heavy flu that almost everyone would go through that winter. But we were already tight on staff for both, the sales and support team and not allowed to hire so we needed to find a solution to hit the KPIs that day.
It was one of the most important days of the year, with one of the new phones being released. Our sales hotline wouldn’t stop ringing and emails would fill up in the inbox rapidly. My intuition said, that our support team wasn’t going to be so busy that day, so I went to the team lead and asked for support from 4 of their agents.
We prepared them for call overflow, that means they would still get the support calls but as soon sales calls would be overflowing in the hotline they would get them as priority calls. The other agents were told that the call volume might get up and that there was no training time to be taken that day. I set myself onto call overflow, too but wouldn’t take them as a priority so I was able to support my team on the floor and really only take a call when nothing else was going to help.
My intuition was right. In contrary to the forecasts, the support team wasn’t busy that day and the 4 agents on the line saved our KPIs. We swapped the 4 agents through the support team, so we gave different agents the chance to get on the phones (and have a break, too) and created a sales-training out of it for them.
Intuition is important for any decision in leadership. I could have easily checked the call forecasts and decided not to ask the 4 agents for help – we would have drowned in calls in the sales team while the support team would have been bored to sleep.
Rule number 2: Always follow your intuition.
1| Proactive action taking to achieve the best outcome for your team
2| Increases efficiency in decision making
3| Helps enormously with building a great team with same/similar values
4| Helps to “ignore” facts that may blind us when making a decision
5| Have a positive impact on your team
And btw. – remember that manager in my first project?
One day he came to tell me he hired me because he had a gut-feeling about me. He also said he never regretted doing so.