The Pretender, Part II

John Whitaker Career Advice, Change, Change Management, Leadership, Managing People

For those of you who read Part 1 of this series, here’s hoping you’ve forgiven me for taking subtle shots at Dirty Dancing, mullets, and Democrats. But in my own defense, I’m an equal opportunity antagonist, so you can be sure to see future digs at Footloose, the GOP, and whatever hairstyle Curt Gowdy has adopted for the day. If you didn’t read Part 1, quit reading this part & high-tail your ass back to this post on FOT and start from the beginning like a normal person.

But let’s not bury the lead with witty satire. You’re a new leader, remember? You now exist in a situation where your biggest fear is being the embodiment of the Peter Principle. Fact is, you’re vulnerable right now. As such, there are still things of which to be aware:

1–Be Careful With New Friends: Especially in Human Resources, as a senior leader you need to be wary of those individuals a little too eager to be your new best friend. Better to face an adversary attacking you than be fooled by the “friend” hugging you. You’ll have no trouble finding hundreds of quotes describing this situation, but in HR it’s even more complicated – if your new buddy immediately begins to “inform you” about the problems (and people) to address first, chances are you have a Judas in your midst, and you’ve opened up the channel for informal tattle sessions. You want to be empathetic, but you’re also not the school principal.

2–Slow Your Roll: Pick and choose, prioritize, and don’t over-promise. When I assumed my new role with Sage, one of the things I received was a list of key objectives for 2019. I counted 20 different objectives, and it was already mid-August. A number of these were accented with “we’ve been waiting for you to get started!”, so party on Wayne! If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority, right? Make the distinction between “must have” and “nice to have” and you’ll find your list shrinking considerably. Doing a few things exceptionally well is your goal – not doing everything mediocre. As much as we want to show we were the right choice for the job, resist the urge to be over-committed.

3–Find a true confidant: Remember, it won’t necessarily be the person who offers you the inside scoop on everyone (see #1); that person likely has an angle. Who in your midst has nothing to gain, has a wealth of internal knowledge, almost certainly has tenure, and has a generally positive and forward-looking attitude? That’s your buddy. It’s also a major reason to…

4–Bring One of Your Own: The last two senior roles I assumed came with the pre-qualified makings of my own Dream Team (the 1992 version, not that garbage 2004 group). They know you, know your style, obviously like your style and can be an internal advocate while you’re still getting your bearings. That doesn’t make them better than the people you inherit, but it sure as hell helps you sleep better at night.

5–Forgive Yourself: Let’s get the suspense over with, shall we? You’re going to make mistakes (plural.) That does not validate concerns you might have (or you perceive that others might have) regarding your ability to do the job. Own them, but don’t let mistakes create a cautious driver – you still need to have the confidence to step on the gas. Being indecisive or unable to react, even with incomplete information, is unacceptable. BE BOLD.

Another freebie – who might be a mentor or supervisor from your past who can be safe harbor when you need to vent, doubt yourself, or admit you’re in over your head? Get ‘em on speed-dial, Pancho, there’s no shame in being human.