My Boss Quit: Leader/Follower Relationships Without A Direct Leader

In an entirely unexpected turn of events, my new supervisor quit on the spot this past Tuesday for personal reasons. Thankfully, I have already established positive relationships with my supervisor’s boss, the director of development, so I was not left without any guidance. In fact, the following day, I was placed at what would be my supervisor’s desk and given some of his work from the past week to review and correct. Though my former supervisor had done his due diligence and trained us well on things we would “probably never have to do”, the transition hadn’t been quite as successful as we had all hoped. Because I have been working with the American Civil War Museum since March, I had a much better grasp of the kind of work my supervisor did on a daily basis, and I was soon receiving requests and tasks from other departments that were frankly beyond my experience and ability. However, thanks to my former supervisor’s careful preparation, I had access to all the information, guides, and resources I would need while the position is vacant. After what was probably my most hectic day, with the help of the other intern and a lot of encouragement from the other members of the development office, I somehow managed to keep things on track during what would be a “first” for the office.  


This past week reminded me how incredibly thankful I am to intern with an organization of the museum’s size. Including both interns, there are only five people in our department, making us one of the largest departments, and about ten people on our floor in total. If we include the CFO, accountant, and education director downstairs, we only have about thirteen people coming into the administrative office on a daily basis. Because of the literal and figurative proximity the development office has with every other department, I have already learned so much more than I ever imagined I would in such a collaborative environment. This past week also kickstarted a whole set of new tasks, procedures, and lessons in leadership. With our supervisor’s position empty, we now answer to the director of development, though this did not feel like a big jump. As interns in the development office, we already work closely with the director of development, the foundation president, marketing, finance, and member services on a daily basis. I am incredibly grateful that the other intern and I have a positive relationship with everyone in the office, so that when our supervisor quit, we had all the help we could ever need keeping things in order. At this point, most of our daily tasks, like mailing and payment processing, are self-directed, and other projects come from the director of development or other departments as they see fit.


My only issue with the museum’s administrative structure is that it can feel a bit too unstructured at times. While I was at my supervisor’s desk on Wednesday, I had at least three coworkers from other departments give me projects while the development office was in the midst of trying to figure out how to redistribute my supervisor’s responsibilities. I just kept putting everything on sticky notes, and by the end of the day, I understood why the files on the computer and in the cabinets were so disorganized. The director of development has also discussed implementing a more accessible organization calendar, as our transition meeting last week was interrupted by two different departments asking for the board room, despite us having properly scheduled the meeting. Though the more flexible organization structure and leader/follower/coworker relationships can be incredibly helpful at times, it also made what was already a mess of a week even more chaotic.

One thought on “My Boss Quit: Leader/Follower Relationships Without A Direct Leader

  • June 14, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    You’ve certainly had a tumultuous time with supervisors thus far. You are very lucky (as is the museum) that you had prior experience there so you have some understanding of the organization (and your supervisor’s role, as you indicated); I am sure that has made you indispensable during this transitional time. Good insights about some of the challenges of the structure; having structure, procedure, protocol does not necessarily mean an organization cannot be nimble and cannot innovate (though too much structure, procedure, protocol can certainly impede at times). Perhaps over the course of your experience and while you are somewhat serving as interim (for your supervisor) you’ll have the opportunity to prose some thoughtful recommendations related to this area.

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