The image of stilettos often conjures up the image of a femme fatale – a woman whose charms can ensnare others. I was not that woman. I ensnared no one. I was more like Gracie Hart, tough FBI agent, walking cooly down the street – only to trip over her own heels. Repeatedly.
To say I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change that left me managing everything almost overnight would be an understatement. Before we started our application maintenance program (aka “outsourcing”) I was a supervisor of nine system architects – mostly focused on our solutions in the Americas – and managing a team that all sat in the same country, the same time zone, the same office building and floor where I sat. Progress on issues or new solutions seemed – well – seamless. We could yell over our cubicle walls to each other for a quick answer or walk down the hall a bit for a more in-depth technical answer from the guys who managed our middleware. We learned constantly from each other. And we had reached a level of technical and functional comptence that allowed us to execute flawlessly and fairly quickly without the burden of layers of procesess and handoffs.
Post outsourcing, I was the manager of the global team – the one in charge of 27 countries, three remaining in-house team members and twelve outsourced staff members. Post outsourcing, we all had to move from being collaborative learners to effective teachers. Post outsourcing, we had to tune our ears to different accents, work to understand a different culture, and – with sensitivity and grace – make a team of outsourced workers feel at home with us — whether they would be working onshore in our U.S. offices or offshore in India.
Nothing could have prepared me for this adventure. Most days were fraught with fear of the unknown. We feared losing our own jobs next. We were uncertain how to execute without the individuals that we knew would know what to do. We were tired from stress and working longer hours to cover Europe and Asia.
In time, each of us – the four who remained — would all rise to the call of leadership. I know I “played by ear” many days – unsure what to do or how to handle things. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. At the end of the workday, I’d abandon my stilettos for bedroom slippers and pajamas – and continue working at home. If I just worked a little harder, a little longer, things would get better. And in many ways they did. It took a village. . . and the courage to be knocked off my stilettos more than once.