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.
“Whatever you do in this life, take time to sit quietly and let the world tell you what it needs from you. Take a moment to honestly understand what your gifts are – you all have them. The way you choose to live your life brings meaning to your life.”
~ Ann Reed
I’m continually amazed by the number of people who stay in jobs they are miserable doing.
Many rationalize that they must make the best of it, but in refusing to consider the options that are often right in front of them, they may not even realize what the “best” is. When we allow ourselves to stagnate, ignoring the impulses and desires we may have to bust out of our self-created constraints, we also unintentionally block the energy that we could be freeing up in those who surround us, whether they be direct reports, peers, customers, family members, or others. We do not do the world any favors by playing small.
You possess an inborn talent that allows you to do something in a way that no one else can.
When you find this talent and apply it to an area of opportunity or need within an organization, you can create a job for yourself that will reward you with immense satisfaction and fulfillment. You’ll find you can achieve extraordinary results with ease and accomplish things people previously thought were impossible. And you’ll serve a vital function for the organization or community of which you are a part, which will in turn give you a deep sense of meaning and purpose.
The key is to pay attention.
Notice what you do that leads to extreme satisfaction and joy and seems to come naturally to you. It’s easy to downplay our strengths—to rationalize that they are no big deal or that everyone can do what you believe are silly little things as well as you can. The truth is that not only can everybody not do those things with the level of skill and finesse that you can, but also that not everybody would want to.
Creating your ideal job or opportunity is a lot like looking for the perfect candidate for a job.
Except in reverse. When companies look to hire someone, they do well to spend time identifying the specific qualifications the ideal candidate will possess. When creating the ideal opportunity, you are that ideal candidate spelling out the distinct responsibilities and kind of work that would be a perfect match for your talents.
The more specific and concrete the job description and ideal candidate description, the more likely a company will find their key player. And the more specific and concrete your picture of your ideal opportunity, the more likely it will come finding you. The clarity of your vision will compel you to act in ways that make you the ideal candidate and enable you to position yourself as a contender.
Even if all you can start doing right now is entertain the idea that perhaps there is something grander out there for you that is aligned with your talent, interests, and passion, you will begin to mobilize energy in ways you could not before.
The more you can internally make it real for yourself, the more it will outwardly come to be.
As you move toward unleashing your true talent and being open to the opportunities that begin to present themselves to you, you will see the way to lead others—inspiring them to bring out the best in themselves by showing them how it is done.
Interested in more strategies for getting clarity on your ideal work and taking steps to move toward it? Stay tuned for more information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow, or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
I’m delighted to announce that my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader is now available as an ebook on the Amazon Kindle store! Today’s post on bringing life back into work is an excerpt from the Preface. I hope you enjoy it.
The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader
I have always been amazed by the number of people who seem to think of work as something of a necessary evil — simply what must be done in order to earn a paycheck. For so many who toil through their workday, the primary goal is to make it to the weekend so they can really live. Going through the motions, working side by side with others whose hearts and minds they seldom truly connect with, they withhold the very parts of themselves that make them come alive.
For some it wasn’t always this way. Many began their careers ignited with passion and optimism, only to find that their flames began to flicker as they encountered obstacle after obstacle that kept them from achieving what they believed would be success. Succumbing to the unwritten rules of the organizations and other environments they found themselves in, which suggested they needed to act or think in a certain way to get ahead, they may have slowly sold out on their dreams and relegated themselves to quiet complacency.
Many of us were not brought up to expect that work would be fun or gratifying in any way – nor should it be. That’s why they call it work, we may have been told. As a result, we may have never really expected much from our careers or professional lives. And as the saying goes, life has a way of living up to our expectations. In just about every corporation, nonprofit or other organization, you will find people in jobs that do not ignite their talents and passions. Some remain dormant in those jobs because they fear that if they pursue their hearts’ desires, they won’t be able to put food on their tables. Many don’t realize that there might be a better alternative.
Most of us have learned how to turn ourselves on and off at will, in an effort to spare ourselves the pain of disappointment or frustration — or to maintain what we have come to believe is a professional demeanor. It is not uncommon to hear people say that they are very different at work than they are at home. Those golden parts of ourselves that we think we are protecting suffer when we do not let them breathe and interact in the very realms that provide us opportunities to learn more about who we are and what we are here to do in the world. We miss the chance to become a part of something greater than ourselves. And the organizations and communities we are a part of miss out on the unique contribution each of us has the potential to make.
We can no longer afford to fragment ourselves in this way, denying the fulfillment of our secret dreams and downplaying the insights we have about what we can do to make life better — for ourselves, and everyone around us. As more and more of us feel the pain that accompanies the denial of our spirits, we start to realize that the time has come for us to bring the totality of who we are to what we do, no matter our vocation, title or role.
For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.
~ Jim Collins, American business consultant, author and lecturer
We are beginning to awaken to our unique calls to service, creativity and innovation. As we find ways to unleash our distinctive talents and passions at work, we will significantly increase the quality of our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone around us. Corporations that take steps to create environments that allow people to thrive will be met with rich rewards as ingenuity pours forth in ways that lead to increased profit and market share, as well as the creation of self-sustaining cultures that inspire people to sustain success by doing what they do best.
There are people among us who have the ability to snap us out of our trances — our states of quiet desperation —and help us bring more of who we truly are to everything that we do.
They can do this for others because they have done it for themselves.
They are called leaders.
You may be one of them. The Pinocchio Principle is dedicated to allowing you to play a bigger, more significant and meaningful part in the world by unearthing your own leadership in ways that bring about a greater good — and showing others the way to rise through your own example.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
~ George Eliot, English novelist, 1819-1880
Click here to look inside and preview more or to order your ebook version of The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader for Kindle. Don’t have a Kindle? No worries. Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones and tablets.
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Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Have you ever had a career disappointment that shook you to your core? I did, and it was early in my career. When it first happened, I was bitter, frustrated and scared. But what I ended up learning from the experience was pivotal to my future. And to this day, I am still grateful.
I know many people out there are enduring all kinds of career shakeups and also know that I am always heartened to hear stories of people who were able to take fairly lousy situations and find a way to benefit from them. It is in this spirit that I share my story with you – (1) The Situation, (2) The Strategy, and (3) Lessons Learned. Please feel free to share your own experiences, advice or questions by clicking on “Add a Comment” above.
My first job after college was at an advertising agency. Having yet to arrive at the realization of what I wanted to do with my life, I took the job because it had elements of what I studied in college: English, business and communication – and because it sounded fun and interesting. I started as an administrative assistant with the promise that it wouldn’t be long before I would be promoted into something a bit more substantive.
Turns out advertising just wasn’t my thing. The work itself didn’t pique much interest in me, but I was intrigued with the organization and the people in it. Turnover was high, morale was low, and the customer was an afterthought. I knew that all that could be changed – that something could be done to allow people to feel more alive in their jobs, to ensure that the customer was happy, that the company was growing and profitable. So I got to work talking to people. I interviewed smart, ambitious entry level personnel, who felt discouraged and overlooked when the jobs they were working toward were filled by people from outside of the company.
I talked to new creative staff and account executives who came in and hit the ground running, knowing little about the agency or its customer. I spoke with seasoned executives who lamented that no one seemed to care about what was most important anymore. I integrated all their insights, ideas and suggestions with my own observations and created a proposal to implement a program that would allow seasoned people to train and mentor newer folks, better integrate with the customer, and grow the business from within.
Knowing little about corporate politics, I went straight to the VP of Operations with my proposal to create the program and allow me to run it. He listened intently, asked several questions, and arranged subsequent meetings with others in the company. It wasn’t long before a position was created. My boss at the time, who wasn’t impressed with my lack of passion for being an administrative assistant or the fact that I went over her head with my proposal (which I never even told her I was working on) was outraged.
She called upon her networks to put a stop to things. A few days later I was told that while the company was going to create the position and launch the program I proposed, because of all the controversy, they could not allow me to head it up. I was crushed. I remember walking across the agency’s glossy floors and out the tall glass double doors of the building, burning with animosity, rage, and frustration at the seeming injustice of it all.
In the weeks that followed my indignant resignation, the anger and bitterness gradually released me from its grip and I began to feel a sense of calm clarity. I was onto something here. Maybe there was a way that I could work with corporations, organizations and people themselves to bring out their latent talent and harness it in a way that could contribute to a common goal. I went to the local bookstore and bought a copy of What Color is Your Parachute and dedicated myself to doing the soul searching exercises there and taking action to learn about work and potential opportunities that were more aligned with my core talents, interests and passions.
Somewhere in my search I discovered that in many corporations there was a department called organization development that employed people to do the kind of things I tried to do at the advertising agency, and more of the kind of work that truly excited and inspired me. I began to ask around and find people who actually did these jobs. Some of them were people that friends of mine knew. I began to interview them, asking about how they got started, what they loved and didn’t love so much about their jobs, and what advice they would have for someone like me who wanted to break into the field. At the end of every interview, I asked for the names and numbers of three more people they would recommend I speak with. I ended up building a pretty great network and it wasn’t long before one of the people I spoke with called me with an opportunity to do an internship at a local hospital in their organization development department.
I was thrilled and ended up learning the ropes from incredibly talented mentors who allowed me to take part in projects that were intriguing, challenging and incredibly rewarding. I was an intern for less than a year before I was offered a permanent position doing satisfying and empowering work I didn’t even realize was out there when I was scratching my head back in college trying to answer the question of what I wanted to do with my life. And each subsequent opportunity I have had has helped me further refine and hone what I love to do into a career that lights me up allows me to continue to grow and evolve.
Among the many things I learned from that experience are the following:
- That defining moment led me on a search that would allow me to find ways to do more of the work that beckoned to me. It launched a chain of events that has led me to learn more about myself and make the most of experiences that would further prepare me for the work that I do now. And I am grateful – so completely and utterly grateful – that it happened, though at the time I thought it was the worst possible thing.
- Sometimes the biggest disappointments are actually precursors to the most amazing opportunities. I learned not to allow my frustration, anger and sadness (even if it is justified) to blind me to what is knocking on my door. I learned to let myself be angry for a short period if I need to and then challenge myself to figure out what positive action to take to get closer to where I really want to be. I try to focus my energy and attention into moving toward something I want rather than away from something I don’t want.
- It’s okay if I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life. This experience taught me that anything I do will prepare me for whatever I’ll do next. I may not know exactly the kind of work that is my best fit until I see what is out there and notice what excites me and what doesn’t. If I can find a way to love the job I’m in, I will benefit by learning more about myself and developing skills that I will be able to use anywhere I go.
- I realized that I don’t necessarily have to leave my job or the company I work for to do something that I love. If I pay attention to what intrigues me and take action to align my natural curiosities and talents with the unmet needs I see wherever I am, it’s possible that the solutions I propose could land me a whole new role – one that is custom designed for me, even when there are no jobs posted on the company’s internal job board.
- I learned the importance of being willing to take a risk and let go of needing my career to turn out exactly the way I think it should. Even though I initially thought the risk I took ended in failure when I didn’t get the position I helped create, it ended up opening my eyes to opportunities I didn’t even know existed. It prepared me for a career in an organization that was far more aligned with my interests and values.
For more on Career Comebacks:
Are you at your wits end in your job, career, relationship, life in general? Experiencing delays, frustration, confusion, and even a little fear? Well, you might be closer to achieving something amazing than you think.
My last post, On the Verge of Transformation, featured an interview with a caterpillar. The above video continues the play by play in the life of a caterpillar, only this time from the inside of the cocoon (or chrysalis, if you want to be technically correct). I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s what I said in the video:
My daughter has this butterfly pavilion that we’ve been raising butterflies in. It’s been days since all the other chrysalises hatched. In fact, we let nine butterflies go out in the garden the other day. But there’s one that’s still in there, in its cocoon. We look at it every day hoping that we’ll catch it as its just emerging and it’s still in there.
I know it’s not dead because when I push on the side of the habitat, the chrysalis shakes gently, which is something that I learned they do to ward off predators. And, I can’t help but think how often we feel this way: we’re in this cocoon, there’s all kinds of change that’s happening, we’re not really sure which direction is up, and we’re the last one. For some of us, it takes longer than others.
If you’re feeling like you’re stuck in the cocoon, I think it’s probably very uncommon. And uncomfortable.
I read a story about a man who actually saw a butterfly trying to get out of the cocoon and used scissors to try to gently help the butterfly out. The butterfly fell out of the cocoon and it’s body was small and shriveled. It just kind of stumbled around on the ground and was finally just still.
What this man learned later was that to get out of the cocoon, the butterfly has to encounter the resistance. In the act of bumping up and busting out of the cocoon, the butterfly’s body fills up with fluid that it needs in order to spread its wings and be free and to turn into the beautiful creature that it is.
It’s such a great reminder to us that just when we feel things are at their darkest, and everything’s closing in and you just can’t take another minute of it — maybe that’s when we’re the closest to actually being ready to bust out. And maybe instead of thinking of all the resistance as overwhelming and exhausting, we can think of it as that final push we need to give in order to just break through into something wonderful that’s just been waiting for us.
For more on change and transformation:
Busting Out of the Box (workshop)
Crazy businessman picture by Stephane Durocher from Dreamstime.