So you’ve just gotten that great opportunity you’ve wanted for so long. You got the promotion! Woo hoo! You settle into your new office, put the higher pay in your monthly budget, meet your colleagues, receive the key to the bathroom and put that first board meeting on your calendar. Then the hard, cold reality settles in that you’re going to have to prove yourself. Gulp.
This was the situation my client, Carol, found herself in when we chatted last week. She’s been a few weeks on the job and is realizing that all the strategies she used in her old job – which was in a different organization at a different level in the pecking order – won’t really work here. She’s got to establish her credibility and role in her new, more senior, role very quickly.
Mistake: Falling Into Your Comfort Zone
Carol dove into her new executive job with excitement and fervor. She quickly started developing allies, strategizing to engage the board and positioning her fledgling division for success. She started getting to know the operational side of the business and began working closely with the CEO. All good.
As she explained all this, however, I heard one thing that set alarm bells off for me because it can be the downfall of too many women in leadership. She related her experience catching some typos in a board presentation that she called out to her CEO. She was proud of this fact and the way that her advanced education helped her see things the CEO could not. I invited her to view this exchange in a different light. I asked her, “What value do you bring to the CEO when you lead with this strength?” In discussing this question she soon realized that she was leading with the strength of a $30/hour proofreader instead of a much more highly paid executive. Was this the initial impression she wanted to make with her new management team? No. Could she identify her boss’ proofreading weakness and suggest someone else on the team who could play that role effectively? Sure. Could she let a few typos go in exchange for weighing in on more strategic concepts? Absolutely!
Carol reflected on how when she wanted so badly to demonstrate her value, she had slipped into her comfort zone, demonstrating a value out of alignment with both her new role and how she wanted to be perceived – which was as a strategic partner to the CEO. This week, she will begin to look for the strategic gaps in the management team and identify opportunities to fill them so the CEO starts to come to her for substantive advice instead of formatting support.
Strategy #1: Demonstrate You Can Operate At The Next Level
It’s natural to want to leverage what you know you do well to get ahead, but when you’re going for leadership positions this may be exactly the wrong way to advance your career. Beyond the middle management point in your career, when you’re going for senior and executive positions, you’ll be hired and valued for your ability to think at the next level. To know what’s on the CEO’s and board’s minds – what keeps them up at night – and contribute to solving the problems they are wrestling with. Sure you have to do a good job running your own operation and reduce the number of typos in your documents, but a big idea that works can make people overlook a gazillion typos.
Sometimes this is challenging because you’re not really there yet. Running your own business can be challenging enough, but the glass ceiling isn’t just about discrimination, it also functions to weed out the people who just can’t operate at the strategic level. The people who negotiate past that point – regardless of gender – usually manage to perform on both operational and strategic levels. You want the brass ring? You’re going to have to stretch for it.
To Carol’s credit she quickly saw past her mistaken positioning and will quickly gain the CEO’s trust on substantive issues. What skills are you emphasizing that tell others you’re more comfortable where you are than where you want to be? What stretch opportunities are you missing because you’re focused on providing the wrong kind of value? Push yourself to be who you want to become and you will be sure to get there.
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