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.
A NOTE FROM DIANE:
I almost didn’t post the above video. It’s personal. And it was recorded in a fragile moment. But then I remembered how comforted I have felt by messages from people who were courageous enough to talk about the challenges and frustrations they were working through. And I decided, the hell with it. I’m going to put the video up. If it lifts the hearts of just one or two people, it’ll be worth it.
If you’ve ever been in a spot where, despite having access to an overwhelming amount of information and people that seem to have it all figured out, you just can’t seem to find any answers — know that you are not alone. And please also know, that you too will find your way.
Here is the written version of what I said in the video:
I wrote this book — The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be. It took me six years to write it. It’s been out for three months. And I can’t get myself to promote it. I can’t get myself to do anything with it. And I know that I should.
So the other day, I was watching a webcast from someone talking about how to become a best seller — how to become a trusted advisor. And I began to fill my head with all these things I thought I should be doing. I found myself taking copious notes. And I got to this point where I couldn’t watch it anymore. I had to turn it off. Something got into me and I literally had to go cry. And I cried so hard I almost threw up.
After all that passed, I realized that the reason that I can’t promote my book yet is that I’m looking so hard outside of myself for people to tell me what to do in an arena where I don’t feel like I have the answers. And the irony is that the book I wrote is about how to trust your inner wisdom and how to navigate through your challenges and your uncertainty.
And so when I got done crying I had to start laughing. Because it’s kind of funny that I actually already have the workbook I need. It’s right here [in the book I’ve poured my heart into for the last six years].
The truth of the matter is that this book isn’t really as much for you as it is for me. And before I can really promote it — before I can feel as though it will be of value to people, I need to live it. And that’s what I’m going to do.
Finding Your Answer in the Midst of Chaos
From Frustration to Fruition
Leading Through Uncertainty
Embracing Life’s Uncertainty
Enduring a Stormy State of Mind
The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be
Are you dreaming big enough? If so, you may often feel overwhelmed by the seeming magnitude of what lies before you.
As we entertain dreams, visions and goals that seem so large that they become daunting, we must not be intimidated by the seeming length or difficulty of the journey ahead of us. I was reminded of this years ago on a skiing trip. After an hour or so, the years that had passed since my last skiing excursion no longer seemed significant and my adventurous side led me to a very difficult black run, full of moguls and steep angles. Once I embarked upon the run, I realized I was in way over my head. At that moment the temperature dropped suddenly and a fog rolled in that was so thick that I could not see more than three feet ahead of me. I began to panic. I wanted more than ever to reach the bottom of the slope and became more fixated on having the run behind me than on the thrill of the experience itself.
As soon as my attention and focus went from the snow in front of me to the bottom of the steep slope, I lost control and came crashing to the ground, losing my skis and feeling the slap of the hard cold ground beneath me. I managed to somehow to get up and put my skis back on, but before long my focus would shift and the same thing would happen again. It was only when I resigned myself to pay attention to what was right in front of me that my body knew how to navigate each mogul. When I let go of having to know exactly how I would get down that mountain and trust that I could make it a few feet at a time, I had everything I needed to succeed.
I think that is how life is too. When we feel dismayed at not having everything figured out right off the bat, we can ask ourselves what we can do right now that will lead us closer to our goals and trust that we will be given exactly what we need to continue our journeys right when we need it. Sometimes conditions are not right for us to proceed full speed ahead, and circumstances take a turn that feel frustrating. Often the skills we need are those that can only be developed through a series of challenges that require us to move out of our comfort zones. We may see these events as setbacks and annoying diversions without realizing their perfect place in the larger orchestration of a course of events we are engaged in that has much greater implications than what we originally envisioned.
Perhaps the whispers of our heart and the calls to greatness that we feel within our souls are essential components of a larger, collective plan that we each play a vital part in. As we rise up to play these parts fully and wholeheartedly, we can revel in the beauty of its mysterious unfolding. In the process, we will discover ourselves to be greater than we thought we were and use each moment of our lives to create something extraordinary for ourselves and others.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
This post is an excerpt from an article called Living Large, published in my January ezine. To subscribe (it’s free), and to access the rest of the article, go to www.DianeBolden.com/articles. You will receive future monthly articles as well as my free report on 10 Traps Leaders Unwittingly Create for Themselves – and How to Avoid Them.