Posted on LinkedIn on Jul 1, 2015
By Jack and Suzy Welch
Your last project was considered a huge success and, as a result, you just got promoted a few rungs up to run a department for the first time.
You’re over the moon, of course, but then… Fear sets in. Maybe you’re afraid you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the experience or the knowledge to jump right in and do the new job.
Welcome to leadership. There isn’t a good manager in the world—even one who has been in the job for years—who doesn’t have a daily panic attack about the load of stuff he or she doesn’t know but should, the confounding challenges ahead, and the sheer impossibility of getting it all done.
Getting promoted is a double-edged sword: thrilling, yes, but terrifying. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first managerial stint or the culmination of your career, with a seat in the corner office. You are the only one who understands how little you actually know about the new job, especially when compared with those big, bold expectations your bosses keep mentioning. Whatever happened, you want to scream, to the perfectly logical idea of a grace period?
You don’t scream, of course. After all, you’ve been told that leaders need to appear calm and in control, and that’s true. Leaders should look and act like leaders for the sake of their people’s respect and confidence and the organization’s momentum.
But being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions; good leaders are, by definition, voracious learners, relentlessly probing the people around them for ideas and insight. They are voracious relationship builders, too, really getting to know everyone in the business who can open their eyes to the “who, what, and when” of the job. Obviously, you don’t want to seem clueless. But you do want to appear deeply inquisitive about every aspect of your business and passionate about what your people think it will take to win. Those traits won’t undermine your authority. They’ll enlarge it.
Tune in to WelchCast, our new podcast on iTunes, to learn more about when fear is paralyzing and when it’s productive — in deal-making, in your organization, and in your career.
Should you fake it? No—but you have to reinvent your self-perception according to reality. Being in charge of something new starts the game all over again, no matter what you’ve done before. You’re probably looking around at your team and wondering: “When will they realize I just had one little project that went well?” You’re probably sitting in meetings listening to rapid-fire conversation about products and customers that are filled with so many new names and buzzwords that they might as well be in Urdu. You’re probably reading e-mails from your boss about the next quarter’s results, and you don’t even know your current cash flow yet.
All this may make you want to dub yourself “not ready.” Dub yourself “normal.” Sure, you will eventually come to know more about your job. There will even be days—say, six months or a year from now—when you feel on top of it all. But business these days changes too fast and has too many variables for any manager to ever have the sustained sense of security most of us yearn for.
Indeed, part of being a leader today is being able to live with an uh-oh feeling in your stomach all the time. Don’t let that panic you more. Instead, consider the proposition that feeling a bit overwhelmed and under-informed is a positive thing, for both you and your business. Everyone knows that too much confidence can lead to arrogance and a kind of “that’s how we do it around here” inertia. The flip side is an insatiable hunger for new ideas and better ways to do things—a hunger that makes you fight like hell to win.
So, even as you feel your knees knocking, don’t turn and run. Make peace with your panic. It goes with the job.
Jack and Suzy Welch are co-authors of the new book, The Real-Life MBA -- Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which debuted as a #1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller.
Jack is Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University.Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute provides students and organizations with the proven methodologies, immediately actionable practices, and respected credentials needed to win in business.
Suzy is a best-selling author, television commentator, and noted business journalist. Her last book, the New York Times bestseller 10-10-10, presents a decision-making strategy for success at work and in parenting, love, and friendship. She is the former editor of the Harvard Business Review, and she spent several years at Bain & Company, the management consulting firm.