Is this the job you signed up for? SmartBlog on Leadership 8.15.2014

My first leadership post was the most unusual and most unexpected management position that I ever held. When I was a high school senior, a friend of mine whose father ran a kosher-certification agency asked me if I could provide supervision in a kosher restaurant on Saturday nights.

I didn’t live too far from the place and wanted to earn some extra cash, so I agreed. The position, I was told, included oversight in the kitchen, and, because I did not have to be in the kitchen for more than a few moments at a time (as all of the ingredients were kosher), manning the cash register.

My first night on the job was going pretty smoothly. It took me a short while to learn the inner workings of the establishment’s kitchen and how to operate the register. Not bad, I thought, for $10 an hour. But then, one of the waiters told me that I had a phone call.

“Is this the manager?” asked the woman on the line. “Manager?” I thought. I hesitated, thinking that the waiter had called the wrong person to the phone. I asked her to hold and went back to the waiter. He explained to me that every kosher supervisor who works in that restaurant is also the manager, so yes; I was the right one to answer. I picked the phone back up. The woman, by now confused and a bit annoyed, asked incredulously, “Are you sure that you’re the manager?” With the confidence of a censored child, I meekly replied to the affirmative. Let’s just say that I’ve had better leadership moments than that one.

Most leaders assume their positions with a better understanding of their job responsibilities than I did. But I have found that quite a few leaders (including myself when I became a head of school) only know the general parameters of what they need to do because they received little mentoring, a vague job description, competing sets of marching orders, or a combination thereof. Additionally, so many responsibilities seem to evolve over time or appear mysteriously on the leader’s lap, oftentimes because there is no one else to do these tasks.

What can leaders do to ensure that their job turns out to be the one that they signed up for rather than the occupation that it evolves into?

  • Review the job description thoroughly before applying. In most cases, detailed job descriptions are available to potential applicants. Review the core job expectations and ask yourself if you are comfortable with everything that is listed. If not, make a note to explore those areas in particular during an interview to see if the job is really for you.
  • Fill in the blanks. As you review the description, try to keep in mind the other leadership tasks that are not included. For example, a chief operations officer listing may include a range of responsibilities but make no mention of fundraising, public relations and the like. Do your homework to determine if these tasks are handled by others or if this will also fall under your jurisdiction.
  • Gauge flexibility options. Will this position offer fiscal and staffing flexibility in the event of change, such as shifting market trends, new technologies or other unforeseen demands? This is important to ensure that the leader does not get saddled with unwanted and “misplaced” tasks.
  • Make it contractual. When the contract arrives, make sure that it clearly details what you are responsible to achieve. This will help you focus your energies and also allow for clearer feedback as well as an easier, more accurate evaluation process. It also will cover you in case expectations change over time without your input or consent.

Oftentimes, leaders fail to go through this process, either because they are not aware of its benefits or they fear that too much insistence will jeopardize their candidacy. While this is understandable, it is the responsibility of a job seeker to do his due diligence and determine whether the new possibility really offer a good fit. If he fails to do so, he may get saddled with tasks that are onerous, unrealistic and/or not what he signed up for.