You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
This week’s blog post, My Most Embarrassing Moment, features a video about one of those experiences I’d rather not repeat and why the most powerful lesson from it didn’t come to me until years later. Below I’ve expanded a bit on the key messages.
One of my most embarrassing moments happened while running on a treadmill at a gym. When I went to fix my hair, my foot hit the part of the treadmill that wasn’t moving and I lost my balance. I hit the belt, which was still moving and was catapulted into the middle of the room where other people were working out. Whether it actually happened or not, it felt as though the room went silent and all eyes were on me.
I’m pretty sure I was bleeding. Though I was bruised and in a lot of pain, it didn’t come close to the humiliation and embarrassment I was experiencing. I smiled and nodded as people asked me if I was okay, pulled myself up and somehow hobbled out of there. To this day, I really don’t like to run on treadmills and tend to avoid them.
The lesson I took from that experience is that treadmills would hurt me. But there was a far more powerful lesson that I initially missed. When I fell, I wasn’t in the moment. My head was somewhere else. I wasn’t conscious or balanced and as a result, bad things happened. My belief that treadmills will hurt me and I need to stay away from them is an assumption. A faulty assumption.
In my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, I drew an analogy of assumptions like these to the strings that keep Pinocchio from realizing his dream of becoming real and doing what he really wanted to do. My assumption that I need to stay away from treadmills is keeping me from what could otherwise be a very enjoyable experience, particularly if I don’t have the luxury of running outside. I’ve written a whole chapter about how our assumptions keep us from doing the things we really want to do in our lives and how we can dismantle these strings so that we can live and lead in new, powerful ways.
What’s your treadmill story? Maybe it is something you tried that didn’t go very well and led you to rule out the whole experience and figure you were no good at it. Maybe your story is about a person that reminds you of someone from your past with whom you didn’t have a good experience. In either case, chances are you’re believing things that are not necessarily true and keeping you from something that could be really great.
What would you need to do to be free of that?
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The other day, my youngest son came home from summer camp with a riddle he wanted me to hear:
“Mom, pretend you are in a box that is sealed shut – air tight – with no doors and no windows.” OK,” I replied, picturing walls on all sides of me.
“How do you get out?” he asked.
I offered some lame solutions, each of which compelled him to roll his eyes and shake his head. When I saw that he could no longer take it I said, “I give up. How do you get out?”
“You stop pretending!” he said with a wide grin spreading across his face.
This little riddle has profound implications for all of us. Because we have a way of creating our own boxes every day of our lives. Sometimes we do it when we wake up with preconceived ideas of how our day is going to be. We do it when we make a judgment of whether or not we believe people will come through for us, or whether we will be able to come through for ourselves or others. We create boxes that keep us walled off from our greatest potential and the myriad of possibilities that exist all around us when we believe that the chances of achieving something are less than optimal.
We are often told that being truly creative requires that we “think outside of the box.” And I believe this is true. Perhaps we can also increase our creativity and effectiveness by recognizing the ways in which we create our own boxes to begin with so that we can prevent them from reigning us in altogether.
Anytime we believe an assumption, we tend to act in ways that validate it. If we believe we are not capable of doing something – speaking in public, taking a stand, initiating a conversation with someone, pursuing some kind of opportunity – we behave in ways that make that assumption true. As the saying goes, “you can’t win if you don’t play.” We may believe we cannot succeed in some area because there is no evidence that suggests we can. But the lack of evidence is often a direct result of believing something about ourselves that is largely based in conjecture; our self limiting beliefs can keep us from trying at all. Many times the only real evidence we have is actually a lack of evidence.
When we believe an assumption about others that suggests they are not capable of achieving something, we act in ways that can bring out their insecurities and doubts, thus inhibiting their performance. It is not uncommon for people to accomplish amazing feats in front of some audiences and become all thumbs in front of others.
When we find ourselves being intimidated by others who may have doubts about our abilities, we need to be aware of the fact that their doubts are not what is inhibiting us at all. Their doubts are only triggering the stories of inadequacy we have about ourselves – and that is what gets in the way of our ability to do any given task.
When we begin to pay attention to what it is we are believing, we can question the validity of our assumptions and take steps to disengage ourselves from beliefs that keep us reigned in. The key is not to try to get rid of our assumptions, but rather to replace our limiting beliefs with empowering truths. Rather than focusing on what’s going wrong, we can focus on what’s going right and build on that. Instead of beating ourselves and others up for our seeming shortcomings, we can appreciate our strengths and the progress we have made and go from there. We can move from the improbable to the possible and look to the talent we and others possess that will help us to achieve it.
Action follows thought – and our doubts are like the walls of a box that keep us from seeing and acting on the array of possibilities all around us. The truth about who we are and what we are capable of dissolves those walls and allows us to bust out of our boxes so that we can experience life as it is truly meant to be lived – unencumbered, limitless, and free.
So, if you find yourself in a box, take my eight year old son’s advice – and STOP PRETENDING.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
If you liked this post, you may enjoy other articles written about Navigating Through Change, Challenge & Uncertainty . Download these and others for free at www.DianeBolden.com/solutions. While you are there, you can subscribe to receive a new feature article each month. You will also receive my free report on 10 Traps Leaders Unwittingly Create for Themselves – and How to Avoid Them.
In the Shadow of a Daunting Task
Do you ever get to a place where you’ve just run out of energy and feel like you simply can’t do another thing? For many, this seems to happen around 3pm or so – or right after lunch. I used to think it was just a biological phenomonenon – perhaps the effect of having to digest food, or needing to eat some. I’ve tried chocolate, but it never quite works as well as I’d like it to – and it just leaves me wanting more.
This afternoon, I felt like I hit a wall. And I did. It was physical as well as mental. I actually felt the wall go up as I contemplated a list I recently made of all that I hope to accomplish in the coming weeks and months and tried to figure out where (and how) to start. The sensation originated in my stomach and rose slowly up my chest, kind of like heartburn. Then it sunk heavily like a boulder thrown into a pond, covering my mind with muddy residue. My impulse was to escape. So I left my computer and took a short break, slumping into an overstuffed chair and closing my eyes for a minute.
As I sat there, I began to think about my state and see if I could identify its cause. It was not an unfamiliar feeling. I had experienced it a few weeks ago after our dog tore into a bag of garbage containing remnants of the previous evening’s dinner and spread it all over the yard – and again right after I opened the box containing my new wireless printer and sat staring with an aching head at instructions that may as well have been in a different language. (That printer is still in the box, by the way.) And then I realized that it wasn’t the work ahead of me that was causing me the angst as much as what I was believing about it.
At bedtime, when my kids were young, they would get scared by shapes in their room that they couldn’t make out. In the absence of information, they created their own stories about what they were seeing, which usually involved some kind of monster or other unwelcome guest. But once the lights were flipped on and they realized the shadows were simply the product of a jacket thrown over the back of a chair or a teddy bear with a large hat, they settled back into their beds and slept peacefully.
I think we do this all the time with the projects and tasks we face on a regular basis – and sadly, also with our grandest dreams and visions. In the light of day, we see them glimmer with promise and possibility. But in the dark, our doubts and fears creep in and have a way of distorting things. This is the point where the skeptics welcome the optimists to reality. But it isn’t reality at all. It is an illusion that has been created by a frightened mind.
The stories we tell ourselves in the dark are those of peril and potential failure. In the absence of knowing exactly what it will take to accomplish the task, project or dream and whether we will be able to execute on it, we begin to identify with our doubt which amplifies the enormity what lies before us. The shadow of a task magnified becomes a feat that feels insurmountable. But flip on the lights and challenge the assumptions that make a creation feel heavy, and it becomes a collection of smaller pieces that can be gradually assembled over time. As Lao Tzu once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Whenever I feel the heaviness that comes with writing the book I started over three years ago, I know that I have entered my dark room. In the absence of light, I am prone to question my ability and my nerve, compare myself to others, and amplify the work it will take to finish the darn thing. The darkness has a way of casting shadows on everything else that needs to get done as well. But in the light, I realize all I need to do is write a page – and then another – and then another. And each seemingly insurmountable task can be broken down into a simpler component that I can get through with even just a little effort. I can breathe through my fear and move into each experience, letting go of the outcome and enjoying the process itself.
When I stop to think about it, cleaning up the garbage the dog scattered around the yard wasn’t nearly so miserable as I thought it would be. And setting up the printer probably won’t be either. The other, higher aspirations can be approached in a lighter, simpler manner as well. With this in mind, I will keep on writing… one page at a time.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Stepping Up to Strategic Focus and Leadership Lit Up. Download these and other articles for free at www.DianeBolden.com/articles. While you are there, you can subscribe to receive a new feature article each month. You will also receive my free report on 10 Traps Leaders Unwittingly Create for Themselves – and How to Avoid Them.