Success at Work

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Success at the topSucceeding in a top job is like getting elected in politics. People have to vote for you. A strong support group of influential senior players is essential both to get promoted to a top job and to succeed once you are there.

Trying too hard too quickly can backfire if you alienate your support group by giving them the impression that you know-it-all or can succeed without their support and input.

The anxiety to prove yourself...fast!

  • Starting a top job in a new company is very high visibility stuff!
  • High visibility creates pressure to make a mark quickly.
  • Being a "new kid on the block" adds to this pressure enormously.
  • Unfamiliar territory is disorientating.
  • A move to a new company after several years in the same firm can be a severe shock to the system (your system, that is).
  • A state of shock and disorientation can add more anxiety.
  • The greater the anxiety the more urgent the need to prove yourself.
  • Anxiety does not often make for clear thinking or sound decisions.
  • Outsiders (you) can be experienced as foreign objects in a person's body
  • The impulse to reject outsiders may take the form of a wait-and-see attitude or suspicion.
  • Your anxiety to be accepted may lead you to see the mildest reticence among your new colleagues as rejection.
  • You may label cool colleagues as enemies.
  • The more enemies you feel you have the harder you will try to prove yourself by acting unilaterally.
  • Unilateral action will make real enemies for you!
  • At this stage you may be on the slippery slope out the door!

The loss of your support group

  • The longer you are with one company, the more you take your colleagues for granted.
  • You may forget how much your credibility is "in the eyes of your supportive beholders"...until you leave them behind.
  • It comes as a shock to realize you need to build a new support network.
  • You are "between a rock and a hard place" here...do you make your mark first, then build relationships or take the time to build your network and make your mark later?
  • The difficulty is that, coming in at a high level, you will be respected and feared before you are liked.
  • Becoming liked quickly is only possible for those joining an organization nearer the bottom where it is easier to be just "one of the boys".
  • You may say you don't need to be liked, but be careful you don't overreact to the coolness of others - seeing them as enemies will make matters worse for you
  • You will find it easier to build support among those who are not threatened by you - usually this means those who have the same or more power than you have or who do not care about power at all - the latter may not be much use to you however.
  • With those who have less power, offer support to make them feel valued - this way you will create allies of them.

Expecting you to walk on water

  • You may be oversold into the company by your new boss to justify bringing in an outsider over the heads of insiders.
  • You will be reluctant to dampen your new boss's enthusiasm so soon.
  • So you may be loath to play down these high expectations.
  • The greater the gap between your boss's expectations and what you feel you can do, the greater your anxiety.
  • The stronger the sales pitch your boss had to make to your new colleagues, the greater will be their expectations...and skepticism.
  • The more unrealistic the initial expectations, the more likely you are to dissappoint.
  • Knowing this, you may take precipitous action, thereby hastening your downfall.

Resentment of insiders

  • Some insiders will welcome your arrival but be unsure of their role.
  • You may interpret their discomfort as resistance to you.
  • Other insiders may be simply neutral.
  • You may see their lack of enthusiasm as resentment.
  • Still other insiders may be more skeptical.
  • You may see getting rid of them as your only alternative.
  • Some subordinates may try to be helpful by making suggestions.
  • You may see this "help" as a challenge to your authority.
  • In your zeal to be accepted quickly as a leader, you may offer several ideas for doing things differently.
  • The downside of this approach is that it may exaggerate the sense of your being an outsider..a know-it-all one at that.
  • Your management style may have been right for your old culture, but a disaster in the new one.

Tips for effective onboarding

  • Clarify organizational culture differences in advance.
  • Bring potential transition issues into the open...early.
  • Take care over how you will be positioned to your new colleagues.
  • Ensure that time is available for developing key relationships.
  • Avoid a business in crisis unless you are sure you can fix it quickly.
  • Negotiate longer term objectives.
  • Conduct team building sessions with your new subordinates.
  • Build alliances with powerful peers...what can you do for them?
  • Be aware of your own potential emotional reactions to high visibility transition pressure.

Beware the "new broom" trap - the temptation to sweep out all of your inherited subordinates just because they are not as welcoming as you would like them to be.

When you move up to the top job, getting the balance right between acting promptly and being too hasty is not easy. The challenge is to avoid letting your emotions drive you in your new job and to work through people to devise widely shared solutions.