Are You Too Self-Reliant

Are You Too Self-Reliant at Work?

Too Self-ReliantIndependence, autonomy, and self-reliance are states we all strive to achieve throughout our careers. Micromanagement or a dependency on others creates strong feelings of disempowerment, often resulting in disengagement and reduced motivation. But can you have too much self-reliance?

I’ve spoken recently with several clients who are struggling to balance their own independence with their need for support from their colleagues. While they are generally self-reliant by nature, they are currently in work situations that require more insight and information than they currently have access to on their own. Asking for help, however, feels uncomfortable. They don’t want to “bother” their co-workers. Or their boss is stretched too thin to handle additional requests.

Instead, they try to complete everything on their own. And in the process, they lose a lot. Here are three areas that suffer when you choose to do everything independently.

1. Time

It’s not efficient to do everything yourself. You are surrounded by resources that have information that you don’t have. Why waste time researching when you can ask the colleague next to you?

You were hired to your role to add value. Reinventing the wheel is not value-added activity. Leverage your resources instead.

2. Quality

If you’re uncomfortable asking questions or seeking support, you can’t be sure that you have clear expectations. How do you know if you’re moving in the right direction? How can you be sure that your work is hitting the mark?

Without clear information, the quality of your work is at risk. Ask questions and socialize your ideas with others to increase your confidence and improve your results.

3. Relationships

If you’re too self-reliant, you deprive yourself of an opportunity to build professional relationships. Relationships develop through the natural give and take that comes from supporting each other. When given the opportunity, most people want to help those around them.

If you never ask for help, others won’t have an opportunity to help you, nor will they feel comfortable approaching you for help. Ask for help when you need it and you’ll build much deeper relationships with others.

Self-reliance is great when you have mastered a skill set and can perform the job independently. It is not appropriate for other situations, however. Here are three times when you should not behave too autonomously.

1. You’re New to Your Role

Being new to your organization or role can create intense feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt. You have endless questions and limited time to get up to speed. You want to develop relationships with your new colleagues but you don’t want to overwhelm them with requests for help.

It’s only natural to feel this way but your on-boarding term is intended to be a learning period. You are not expected to know everything, nor are you expected to research everything on your own. Use your colleagues strategically. Rather than pepper someone with questions throughout the day, invite them to lunch and bring a list of questions with you.

2. You Have New Responsibilities

As you take on new responsibilities, you’ll inevitably have questions and uncertainty about how to perform. Think, for a moment, about something that you do very well. How did you get here? You weren’t born with that experience. You learned it over time through observation, practice and support.

Treat new responsibilities the same way. Don’t create more pressure on yourself by setting unrealistic expectations. Learn from those around you and you’ll be up and running much more quickly and confidently.

3. You Want to Advance Your Career

Too many talented, high potential professionals believe that in order to take their careers to the next level, they need to keep their heads down and stay focused on their work. They believe that by becoming exceptional performers, influential leaders will notice and reward them accordingly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you want to get ahead, you can’t go it alone. You need visibility and influence to advance your career, which necessarily require the involvement of others. Share your goals with others and seek guidance on how to achieve them.

Self-reliance is an admirable quality. But don’t let it prevent you from leaning on others to advance your career.

Saying No

The Importance of Saying No

Saying NoI recently wrote a post on the power of saying yes. My goal was to emphasize the value that stems from your willingness to stretch the limits of your comfort zone and try something new. Unless you’re open to new experiences and opportunities, you won’t grow and advance your career.

This week, I am focusing on the opposite – the importance of saying no. Too often we say yes to activities that don’t serve us well. This leaves us with insufficient time and energy for more strategic efforts.

If you’re like many of the professionals I speak with regularly, you’re overwhelmed by your workload. But it’s not helping you to achieve your career goals. It might even be working against you.

There is a significant difference between being busy and being productive. Many of us are incredibly busy, but not often very productive. To achieve your career goals, you need to be focused on activity that directly furthers those goals. Ask yourself, how much of your day-to-day work is helping you to take your career to the next level?

Here are 3 ways your inability to say no is undermining your career advancement efforts.

1. You’re stuck in your comfort zone.

When you do something well, it’s easy to confuse activity with productivity. It feels good to be competent. But if you’re spending all of your time doing work that doesn’t challenge you, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re not advancing your career.

What to do:

Take a look at your current workload and determine how much of your work is familiar, unchallenging, or tedious. Then consider how you might delegate some of this work to others. Are there junior colleagues that are interested in learning more about your role? Are there new employees that can take on these activities as a way to acclimate to their new environment? Are there administrative support resources that can perform some of these tasks?

2. You’re uncomfortable pushing back.

This is a common challenge for many of us. If you’re a pleaser by nature, you do what’s asked of you because you don’t want to let others down. By now, you’ve set a precedent. Others have come to expect that they can rely on you for support, even if it doesn’t serve you.

What to do:

You can say no to others and still be supportive. If someone asks you to engage in work that is not strategic to your efforts, offer to help them find a more appropriate resource to support their needs. Or be honest about the fact that, while you’d love to help, you don’t have the bandwidth to add any additional responsibilities to your plate.

3. You’re unclear about your goals.

You lack clarity about what you want from your work so you can’t be selective about what you take on. If you don’t know which efforts will best serve you, you can’t be strategic about the choices you make. You remain stuck in a trial and error pattern, hoping that eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.

What to do:

Take a step back and reflect on what’s next. It’s very challenging to find time for self-reflection during the typical daily grind. But if you don’t prioritize this, you’ll never break out of this vicious cycle. Schedule time on your calendar to consider bigger questions about yourself and your career goals. If you struggle to do this on your own, find a support resource, such as a career coach, counselor, or mentor to guide you.

Until you break free from the endless tasks that are weighing you down, you’ll never be in a position to attract and embrace new challenges that will support your professional growth.

liked and respected

Yes, You Can Be Liked AND Respected

liked and respectedA major theme across many of my recent coaching conversations has been the perceived contrast between being liked and being respected. I have many clients who have established a professional brand built on likability. This quality has helped them to build strong relationships and reputations for being a good team player. But as they advance to higher levels, they begin to experience tension.

“I have a difficult time giving negative feedback to my employees because I’m too nice,” confided a senior-level executive.

“My boss’s expectations are unrealistic but it’s hard for me to push back. I’ve always been known as the one who says yes,” shared a mid-level manager.

“I want to be respected by my team but they don’t take me seriously. I have trouble standing up for myself,” said another manager.

The key message that I try to deliver to everyone who frames their challenge in this way is that being liked and being respected is not an either or proposition. If you are well liked, you do not need to lose your likability in order to gain the respect of others. Nor do you become unlikable simply by being respected. When you recognize that you can be your true, likable self and be respected at the same time, you begin to recognize that you have more options than you originally realized.

Here are some strategies to consider as you aim to increase your overall level of respect.

Be authentic

First and foremost, be yourself. If you’ve ever tried to take on a different persona in a conversation or other type of interaction, you understand how challenging this can be. When you feel inauthentic or insincere, your message is undermined by your body language or lack of confidence.

Use your likability to your advantage. By now, you probably have a strong well of support among people who perceive you as a nice person who cares about others. If you need to convey a difficult or unpopular message, most people will understand that you’re coming from a good place.

Be vulnerable

Many of us feel that in order to be strong, we need to be guarded. If we’re feeling nervous or uncomfortable, letting others in on how we feel will only leave us weak and exposed. The opposite is actually true.

When you’re feeling uncomfortable, share your feelings with others. Your vulnerability will allow others to feel vulnerable as well, which will lead to more powerful connections. For example, if you need to give difficult feedback, say something such as, “Just as I’m sure it’s not easy for you to hear this, it’s not easy for me to say this either.”

Vulnerability personalizes situations that might otherwise be tense and conflict-laden. When coupled with authenticity, vulnerability puts others at ease, maximizing the chances that we will truly hear each other.

Be direct

Direct communication can be difficult for professionals who are accustomed to softening their language. While it may feel easier or nicer to cushion a message with soft language, indirect messages are more likely to lead to miscommunication and less likely to inspire respect. If you have a tough message to deliver, be direct.

Think for a moment about the people you respect. When communicating with others, are they wishy-washy, unclear, or uncommitted to their message? Probably not. Observe the communication patterns of those you respect and look for opportunities to practice similar styles.

Engaging in behaviors that increase the respect of others takes practice. These strategies may feel outside of your comfort zone but with experience, they’ll come to you more naturally. Begin by practicing in low risk situations before advancing to higher risk situations in order to build your confidence.

power of saying yes

The Power of Saying Yes

power of saying yesYears ago, while out for a drink with a colleague after work, I serendipitously met the leadership team of another internal department. Having had no previous interactions with the group, I was genuinely curious about their efforts and asked a number of questions to better understand their structure and focus. Throughout the conversation, I also had an opportunity to share my experience in the partner development arena, which was a key challenge for this team.

Shortly after our initial meeting, I was asked to assume a leadership position on the team. My mind immediately began to race as self-doubt and the Impostor Syndrome reared their ugly heads. I was doing so well in my current position. Why would I take such a risk on an unknown?

Despite the intense anxiety, I intellectually recognized that this was a critical career opportunity. I was being offered the chance to create and develop an entirely new team – an “intrapreneurial” role that doesn’t come along often. Only the barest strategy had been established; the rest of the plan and execution was up to me.

I accepted the new leadership position and fought my way through fear, uncertainty, and confidence issues. It was not an easy transition. I stumbled multiple times but I leveraged my resources and leaned on mentors for support. And while it would have been much easier to remain in my comfort zone, this new role fundamentally changed the trajectory of my career. The exposure I now had to influential leaders, along with the autonomy and authority I had to make critical strategic decisions was more powerful than anything I learned in business school.

Our lives are all a series of decision points. Some decisions are small and seemingly insignificant – should I eat lunch at my desk or join my team? Others feel much more consequential, such as making a career change or accepting a career advancement opportunity.

Each of the decisions we make, regardless of their perceived significance, has the potential to move us in a new direction. Making the decision to go out for a drink with my colleague after work was the key driver in my new career path. Had I made the seemingly benign decision to go home instead, my life would be very different today.

When you’re busy, stressed, or anxious, saying yes to a new opportunity can feel too scary or risky. It’s only natural to have hesitations. But saying yes can also catapult you to a whole new career level. Your comfort zone will always feel safe and predictable but it’s not challenging. It won’t stretch you or empower you to reach your full potential. The only way to grow is to say yes.

Here are some of the common decision points that I see professionals wrestle with:

1. Building relationships with influential leaders

This process scares many professionals because it triggers a number of insecurities. Am I wasting their time? Do I have anything valuable to say? Am I stepping on my boss’s toes? This opportunity is too important to ignore. Your future success in your organization depends on your relationships and reputation with key influencers.

2. Taking on a challenging role or project

As I mentioned previously, I’m intimately familiar with the Impostor Syndrome. I understand that voice that tells you that you don’t deserve to be where you are and that you’re a fraud. Don’t listen to it! When offered an opportunity to expand your skill set and stretch yourself, say yes.

3. Leaving behind something that’s no longer working

The comfort zone is a powerful place. Even when it’s frustrating, stressful, or even toxic, it often feels much easier to stay put. As comfortable as the familiarity and predictability are, they are not going to get you where you want to go. Say yes to powerful change!

Where are you struggling to say yes? Share your comments and experiences here.

Think Leaving Your Job

Think a New Job Will Solve Your Problems? Think Again

Will a new job solve your problemsWhen you’re feeling frustrated in your job, it’s natural to imagine an escape. Fantasizing about that mythical new job with the inspiring manager, supportive colleagues, lack of office politics, greater flexibility, etc. might be the only thing that gets you through a stressful work week. Once you make that transition, everything will be better…

If only it were that simple.

It may be true that it’s time to leave a toxic work environment. But finding a new job won’t necessarily solve everything. I was recently speaking with an executive coaching client. He came to me initially with a desire to make a career change. After experiencing frustration and burnout in his current executive position, he thought that finding a new job would alleviate his stress.

Interestingly, this insightful client soon recognized that the challenges he sought to address by leaving might actually be of his own making. Sure, he might have some frustrating colleagues and an overwhelming workload. But he realized that much of his pain could be attributable to the way he manages these stressors.

Rather than focus on a career change, he decided it would serve him best to first focus on development areas that he could address within himself. He astutely concluded that if he did not work on himself, he was very likely to find himself in a similar situation in his next job.

Are you trying to run away from your own issues?

If you’ve been struggling at work and considering a career change, ask yourself what’s motivating you. What are you hoping will change if you leave? How will a new work environment be better?

In some cases, finding a new job can help. Sometimes external factors, such as an incompetent manager or an unethical work culture, are out of your control and the best course of action is to change jobs. But often it’s not an external factor that’s undermining your career success and satisfaction.

Here are some questions to consider before making a career change:

  • Is your perfectionism leading to increased stress and burnout?
  • Is your tendency toward conflict avoidance keeping you from addressing tensions with leaders or colleagues?
  • Are your insecurities and self-doubt undermining your confidence in your ideas and positions?
  • Is your limited visibility preventing you from influencing others and making your voice heard?
  • Does your lack of understanding of how to manage office politics keep you from advancing to the next level?
  • Does your inability to say no and set reasonable boundaries leave you with an overwhelming workload?
  • Are you overlooked for promotions and challenging new opportunities because you don’t have powerful relationships with influential leaders?
  • Do poor impulse control and unchecked emotions alienate you from your peers?

Focus on yourself

If you answered yes to any of these or related questions, fleeing your current job for a new job will not help you. In order to achieve the career success you desire, you need to strengthen yourself. Until you address the internal challenges that hold you back, they will simply follow you wherever you go.

Identify your highest priority challenge – the one that most undermines your success – and set a goal to address it. Are you struggling to set boundaries with your boss? Consider educating yourself on negotiation strategies that can help you more efficiently manage your workload. Is conflict avoidance your challenge? Focus on learning and developing new conflict management strategies. Take a course, read a book, or speak with a mentor you admire in this area.

Leverage your current work environment as a practice ground for new behaviors. If you wait until you transition to a new job to address these development needs, it will be much more challenging to follow through. You’ll be caught up in learning your new role, building relationships with new colleagues, and executing against new goals to focus on your own professional development.

Even if you’re fully committed to leaving your job, regardless of the source of dissatisfaction, act now to tackle internal challenges. You’ll be much more confident stepping into your new role if you do.

Reinvent Yourself

Can You Reinvent Yourself in Your Current Job?

Reinvent YourselfA common theme that I’ve recently observed among several of my executive coaching clients is the challenge of reinventing yourself in an environment where leaders, colleagues, and direct reports already have an established perception of you. Is it possible to make changes to your leadership style, interpersonal interactions, or other professional behaviors while in your current position? Or do you have to leave your organization and start anew in order to alter how others perceive you?

The response to these questions is determined partly by the specific situation. If your reputation has been severely damaged, either by circumstance or your own efforts, it can be difficult to recover in your current environment. But let’s focus instead on more routine professional behaviors.

For example, many of my clients struggle with being too nice or too willing to say yes. Their likability, initiative and reputation as a strong team player have traditionally served them well in their careers. These very behaviors have allowed them to reach higher levels of leadership in their organizations. But now they find themselves in more complex political situations that require them to take a tougher stance. They don’t know how to be more assertive or decisive with colleagues who are accustomed to a very different style.

As anyone who has ever tried to make personal or professional changes knows, it is virtually impossible to create change in a vacuum. Have you ever tried to improve your diet as the rest of your family continues to snack on junk food? Or have you tried to unilaterally change the way you communicate with your spouse or partner?  If so, you can appreciate how difficult it is to achieve success without the support and involvement of others.

It is possible to reinvent yourself in your current job but you must be strategic about your approach. Here are some steps to help you create positive change without alienating, confusing, or disrespecting your colleagues.

1. Seek external feedback

Often our self-perceptions differ from the perceptions of those around us. Is your leadership style or behavior really undermining your success? Seek the feedback of others to understand how they see you.

Whether through formal feedback, such as a 360-degree assessment, or informal feedback through open communication with peers and leaders, try to assess how your leadership style might be hurting you. Look for examples of how your behavior may be impacting others. For instance, your team may feel that your niceness is keeping you from fighting for resources that they need to more effectively do their jobs. Or your boss might think that you’re taking too long to make important business decisions because you’re worried about upsetting others.

It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior, particularly during busy or stressful times. Direct feedback can motivate you to follow through on making changes. It can also help you to prioritize specific areas of focus.

2. Communicate your goals

Making others aware of your goals can have many benefits. Firstly, letting trusted leaders and peers know your professional development goals, such as becoming more assertive, gives them a heads up that behavioral changes may be coming. Because they understand your plan, they won’t be blindsided when you take a tougher stance on an important issue.

Secondly, the colleagues you entrust with this information can provide support and encouragement. They can share their own strategies and best practices for handling specific situations, which you can adopt or modify as you try out new behaviors. As you adapt your leadership style by experimenting in new situations, ask for their feedback. How did they perceive the behavior? Did it have the effect you were going for?

And finally, sharing your goals with others can hold you accountable to yourself. Once that message is out there, people will be watching. You’ll be much more likely to take risks and step outside your comfort zone if you’ve made a public commitment.

3. Make incremental changes

Don’t expect to transform yourself overnight. Making any type of change takes time, so allow yourself the space to take this slowly. Begin with lower risk action steps that feel less stressful or intimidating. For example, setting a new boundary with a peer may feel less overwhelming than pushing back on your boss. As you build confidence and become more comfortable in your new role, you can tackle other areas.

Making incremental changes also allows others to get more comfortable with the new you. As you ease into new behaviors, they will transition along with you. It won’t feel as dramatic or sudden if you take it slowly.

Reinventing yourself at work can feel challenging or scary but it is possible. Have you reinvented yourself in the past? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

How Self-Promotion Helps Others

How Does Your Self-Promotion Benefit Others?

How Self-Promotion Helps OthersAs an executive coach, I am consistently struck by the level of humility shown by talented, successful leaders who would be well justified in bragging about their accomplishments. These leaders have driven powerful initiatives, developed efficient new methodologies, and spearheaded valuable new relationships on behalf of their companies. Yet they shy away from self-promotion.

Most of us intellectually understand that strategic self-promotion is critical to career advancement. But actually engaging in self-promotion is another matter. Many professionals lack the confidence and skills to promote their value and contributions to others. They fear looking arrogant or self-serving, rather than authentic.

The first mindset shift that needs to occur when thinking about self-promotion is the notion that self-promotion is self-serving. While there are clear personal benefits to engaging in self-promotion, it is not a selfish act. There are many other constituents that benefit from your willingness to promote your accomplishments. Here are just a few:

Your Leadership Team

It’s easy to assume that your manager and other influential leaders see and understand the value you have to offer. After all, you participate in regular meetings, work in the same office, and communicate with them on a consistent basis. Do you really need to explicitly share your accomplishments and key wins with them?

Yes, you do! Most leaders are simply too busy and stretched in too many different directions to recognize all of the great contributions their teams are making. They likely have an overall sense of your value and performance but they don’t have all the details.

Sharing your successes with your manager makes him/her look better, as your accomplishments positively reflect on your leadership team. By providing them with visibility into the specific value you offer, your manager now has an opportunity to share that information with his/her manager. Everyone wants to hear good news and your successes offer your leadership team an opportunity to celebrate. They can also leverage your win when promoting their team’s performance to others.

Your Own Team

If you have a team of direct reports, your reluctance to promote yourself robs them of the visibility and respect they deserve. None of us achieves success independently; we all rely on our teams for support. Each time you strategically promote yourself, your credibility and respect grow, which lift the overall credibility and respect of your team in the process.

Most of us have an easier time doing things for others than we do for ourselves. If you’re uncomfortable promoting your accomplishments for your own sake, think of it as a form of support for your team. Don’t let your discomfort deprive them of the opportunity to shine.

Share your team’s successes, which reflect positively on you, but don’t lose yourself in the story. It’s important that others recognize your role as the leader of the group. Be sure to emphasize your own contributions as well.

Your Organization

However autonomous your role may be, you don’t work in a vacuum. Your success and accomplishments are valuable because they help your organization meet its goals. When you promote your accomplishments, you’re not bragging, you’re educating the organization on how you can help the larger team.

For example, if you develop a more efficient approach to a traditionally cumbersome process, share that with the larger group. They can directly benefit from your new process by leveraging your work and not having to reinvent the wheel. If you land an important client, you may be able to offer contacts to another department that has struggled to connect with them.

Or if you have expertise in a particular area, such as social media, a new software program, or relevant industry trends, schedule a lunch and learn and invite others to attend. They’ll gain useful insights from your presentation and you’ll demonstrate your value in an authentic way.

As you can see, your self-promotion efforts not only help you advance your career; they help others improve their roles as well. Next time you hesitate to share your success with others, consider how you’re depriving them of important benefits in the process.

How has your self-promotion helped your team? Share your thoughts and experiences here.


3 Ways to Conquer Perfectionism

PerfectionismSeveral weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading three powerful conversations on the Impostor Syndrome and the toll it takes on our confidence, careers, and overall well-being. The Impostor Syndrome, for those who are unfamiliar, is the term for the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy we experience despite evidence to the contrary. It’s the belief that while you might seem to the outside world like you know what you’re doing, underneath it all, you’re actually a fraud.

During these recent discussions, one of the key areas we explored was the link between the Impostor Syndrome and perfectionism. Many sufferers of the Impostor Syndrome struggle with the need to be perfect. Even in situations that don’t warrant special attention or extra diligence, it’s difficult to let go of the perfectionism.

It makes sense if you think about it. When you struggle with the Impostor Syndrome, as I have in the past, it’s terrifying to imagine someone finding you out. That fear of being exposed as a fraud is so anxiety provoking that you’ll do anything to prevent that from happening. It would be unimaginable to ask for help or let on that you’re not as competent or capable as everyone thinks you are.

It might make sense but it’s not helpful. First of all, there’s no such thing as perfect. If you keep chasing an unrealistic ideal, you’ll burn out trying to reach an impossible goal. Your commitment to producing high quality results is admirable and you shouldn’t lose that. But it’s important to recognize when something is complete and no additional effort is necessary.

Perfectionism also distracts you from other areas you care about. If you’re using up all of your energy trying to perfect your work, you won’t have the mental or physical bandwidth to engage with your family and friends, participate in recreational activities, or even manage your own health. It’s self-defeating and doesn’t buy you much in terms of success or reputation. Quality work is quality work. Nobody gets credit for the extra ten hours they spent on something that could have been completed in two.

While many consider perfectionism an admirable quality, even taking pride in their perfectionistic tendencies, it’s not a trait that we should nurture. Perfectionism, despite its deceptive appearance, is a toxic manifestation of fear. If you want to let go of perfectionism, you first need to face your underlying fears.

Consider the following questions:

1. What are you afraid of? 

What are you afraid will happen if you let go of being perfect? Consider this carefully as this is not a simple question to answer. Try to connect with what truly scares you.

Do you have a fear of failure? Do you worry about giving up control? Are you afraid that someone will perceive you as less capable or qualified to perform your role? Do you fear that you’ll no longer be loved or respected?

2. Where does this fear come from? 

Try to trace the roots of your fear. Why do you think you feel this way? Think back on your oldest memory of feeling this way. Were you a child? Were you in another vulnerable place in your life?

Many times these feelings of fear and vulnerability emerge when we feel that we have limited control over our lives and circumstances. A perceived lack of control feeds anxiety, leading us to seek out ways to control our environment, even if such control is, in reality, just an illusion. Perfectionism is such an illusion of control. We believe that if we work that much harder or invest that much more time, it will be “perfect” and thus protect us from our deeper fears.

3. What can you do about it? 

It’s only natural that we would assume that to protect ourselves from fear, we must avoid the fear itself and the forces that trigger it. Counterintuitively, however, the only effective way to reduce fear is to face it directly. The more you try to avoid your fear, the more powerful it becomes. By embracing your fear, you dilute its power and recognize that the object of fear is not as scary as you initially thought.

Identify one immediate step you can take to begin to let go of your perfectionism. If you’re working on a project, set a firm limit on how much time you’ll allow yourself to commit to it. If you’re writing an email, limit yourself to two re-writes. If you’re working on a low priority task, allow it to be “good enough.”

After taking that first step, notice what happens. Does the world collapse around you? Do you lose your job? Do you lose the respect of everyone involved? I’m confident that the answer to each of these questions will be no. What likely will happen is that you’ll recognize that your worst fears were not realized. And you’ll gain the courage and strength to continue to chip away at your perfectionism, one step at a time.

Have you found strategies to manage your perfectionism? If so, please share.

Leadership Transition

New Leadership Position? 3 Steps to a Successful Transition

Leadership TransitionWhether you’re a long-standing leader or a newly promoted manager, think back on your transition from individual contributor to new leader. How prepared were you to step into a leadership role? Did your company offer leadership development support? Were there clear expectations of your new role? Did you feel confident in your ability to be successful?

If you’re like most leaders, your path to management was not paved with leadership training, mentorship, and other critical support. You independently navigated the transition from a position where your focus was primarily on your own efforts, to a role with responsibility for inspiring, developing, and leading a team.

As you well know, leading a team requires a very different skill set from leading yourself. It’s no longer just about you and your individual performance– it’s about the team. In your new role, you might not be the rock star you were in your previous role. It can be difficult to give up that glory. You might also miss being on the front lines, practicing the skills you’ve mastered over the years. Additionally, the increased exposure that accompanies a higher-level position often creates anxiety, leaving you longing for the comfort zone of your previous role.

Making a transition to a new leadership role at any level is complex, anxiety-provoking, and even messy at times. Expectations aren’t always clear, players and politics change, and the stakes are much higher. Despite your previous experience, without a clear strategy and development plan to help you maximize your new leadership role, you could find yourself set up to fail. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

As you embark on any new leadership role, follow these three steps:

Leverage company resources

Some companies offer formalized leadership development programs to prepare you for a bigger leadership role. In some cases, these programs are publicly promoted or provided to you as part of an orientation/transition period. In other cases, you may need to seek them out.

Do not wait to be told! Proactively ask your manager or HR leader about the types of development support that are available to you. Even if your company doesn’t have its own leadership training and development offerings, it might be willing to pay for you to seek support elsewhere.

Invest in yourself

Be willing to make an investment in your professional development, whether or not your company provides you with leadership training and support,  Attend relevant conferences, training programs, and workshops to gain new leadership skills and learn from the experiences of others.

Even some of the best leadership development programs are inherently limited because you are typically learning how to lead in a vacuum. You’re placed in a short-lived, artificial environment rather than learning to lead in context. To receive consistent support as you tackle the challenges of your new leadership role, consider engaging an executive coach, mentor, or other ongoing resource.

Ask for help

Nobody, especially a new leader, is expected to know everything. Regardless of your level of experience, you will undoubtedly face moments when the path before you is unclear. Don’t go it alone.

If you’re uncertain about how to proceed, clarify expectations with your leadership team. Clear communication is critical to your success. Build a relationship with your manager immediately and make it a habit to communicate regularly. Leverage your peers and direct reports as well. Particularly if you’re new to the group or organization, they will have insights and experience that will be highly valuable to you.

Above all, be a leader in your own career. Great companies offer great leadership resources but it’s incumbent upon you to seek them out. If you’re not getting the support you need to be successful in your leadership role, take action to get it. Don’t wait for someone else to act on your behalf.

Want to Get Ahead? Don’t Be Too Good at Your Job

man.climbing.ladder.2You’ve worked hard to establish yourself as an expert in your role. You consistently produce high quality results, which are reflected in your annual reviews. Through years of experience, you’ve developed a reputation for excellence and have become a go-to person in your organization. So why are you stuck in the same role?

Early in my career, I worked with a man who was our department’s expert on reporting. He had manually created all of the reporting templates and was the only one who really understood how to populate them. Everyone on the team depended on him for their data. People would sometimes joke about the problems we’d face if he were to get hit by a bus one day. While he had great job security, he had made himself irreplaceable.

It may sound counter-intuitive but it is possible to be too good at your job. Because you are a trusted, reliable asset to your team, your manager likely cringes at the thought of losing you. Nobody else understands your business like you do. If you were to leave, how could they ever find someone to step into your role?

I’m not suggesting that you start compromising the quality of your work. Your expertise and reliability are important elements of your brand, which you do not want to damage. But there are steps you can take to make yourself less indispensable and more promotable.

1. Demystify your work

If your skill set is highly technical or specialized, it may intimidate others who are less familiar with it. Whenever possible, try to explain things in more understandable terms. Even your manager may not fully understand what you do. When providing updates or reports to him/her, include some detail about how you got there. The more accessible your work, the less daunting it will feel to others.

2. Mentor others on your team

When you’re busy and highly skilled at your role, you might not feel the need to interact regularly with your team. If you want to get ahead, though, not engaging with your team is a missed opportunity. Mentor individuals who are interested in your work or perform related roles. Schedule a lunch and learn to teach your team how to use key tools and resources. The more your team understands your role, the less you’ll be perceived as a standalone performer.

3. Groom a potential successor

Until your manager can find a suitable replacement for you, he/she will have a difficult time letting you go. Is there someone on your team who has the potential to step into your role someday? Talk with them about their interests and goals. Consider delegating some activities or partnering on key projects with them. Even if you remain in your role for a while, it’s valuable to have someone else who can pick up the slack when you’re out of the office or tied up with other priorities.

4. Discuss your goals with your manager

If you’re interested in pursuing a new role, it likely won’t happen overnight. Let your manager in on your plans well in advance to allow for a seamless transition. Share your thoughts on a successor, offer to transfer your knowledge to the appropriate people, and let him/her know that you’ll be available for occasional questions after you leave. The more comfortable your manager feels about a future without you, the more support you’ll receive.

If you excel at what you do, keep up the great work! But if you want to get ahead, don’t be irreplaceable.