Finding your place on Olympus
Council of the Gods - Giovanni Lanfranco (1582–1647)
Congratulations on being named to the leadership team! This reflects well on your accomplishments and on the organization’s assessment of your ability to excel at the next level.
There is a ton of information available on how to manage upper team of former peers. But there is another set of relationships that is as critical to your success in the new role – those with your new team of peers. Funny thing, you will find next to nothing written about how to relate to them.
It’s a mistake to think that these new relationships won’t require a lot of your attention and action. Yes, you come into your role with goodwill. Your colleagues are pulling for you… as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they are hoping to accomplish themselves. Safe to say, they feel some ambivalent towards you. You are no longer the cute, junior up-and-comer whom they made time to help. You’ve made it to The Show. You can help them in ways that were impossible before. And, for the first time, you’ve become a threat.
The early months following a promotion are a time to recast a relationship from the previous power disequilibrium to one of mutuality. Here are seven steps to accelerate the process:
Use your ignorance to your advantage. You are in learning mode, while your colleagues are in activation mode. They are exhibiting patience while you play catch-up. Your ignorance allows you to be forgiven for early mistakes. And it allows you to leverage the equity that you've earned to ask questions about the scope, scale and complexity of your new responsibilities.
Sort out the micro-culture. You’ll become aware of norms, values and dynamics that were not obvious before your promotion. A veil is lifted in how you see the leadership team. Your colleagues don’t all get along as well as you thought. You now see them less as paragons than you imagined. They are people just like you, with their own foibles, conflicts and insecurities.
Accept becoming a peer. Remember when your parents were no longer “Mommy” and “Daddy”? Maybe it happened when you went off to college. Maybe it was when they stumbled in their own lives. Or maybe it took having kids of your own. It’s not just that you started to view them differently. They viewed you differently, too. Your old relationship of dependency limits a sense of mutual respect. A promotion can be the professional equivalent. Your new peers immediately sense this change, but you have to catch on to this new reality, as well.
Watch out for the politics. You are not the Alpha in this pack. Impinge upon a colleague’s sphere of influence at the risk of being swatted down. You can apologize for making a beginner’s mistake, but that might undercut your attempt to create an equitable new relationship. Look before you leap.
Make your credibility personal. Your peers already have a sense of your ability to get things done. That is why they were probably supportive of your promotion. But in building alliances, consider their WIIFM. Ask what can you commit to that will make a positive difference in a peer’s job? Then do it better or quicker than expected. Do not put yourself in a position of overpromising.
Resistance is not futile. Is a colleague requesting something that you can’t deliver, or feel is not in the organization’s best interest? Say “no” and give an explanation. Is another leader overly critical of members of your team, in a public forum? Defend them. Provide evidence to support your team. Very early on, you may strike an objective position and ask for evidence that supports their assertion for your evaluation. After a short honeymoon, realize that nobody will stand up for your team, if you don't. Privately, determine what was the motivation behind the criticism.
Question colleagues through one-on-ones. Ask your peers their opinions, on the issues the business faces, on their personal hot-buttons and on their assessment of your team and your agenda. What should you know about their job? What can you work together to accomplish? How are your team members and your processes supportive or obstructive to what they need to get done? Who do they see as the high potentials or the problem managers within your group? Are there relationships between your teams that need to be addressed? Are there people on their team that you can help mentor (as the peer once did for you)? Hopefully, these discussions can create tangible steps to building relationships with each of your peers, or at least with the ones whom you will work most closely with.
There are few "how to" guides to building relationships with your new set of leadership peers. Much of this might seem like uncharted territory. If you accept your position as an equal, learn how your stakeholders think and feel, hold your ground when warranted and deliver on meaningful promises, you turn goodwill into lasting respect.
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Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.