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MOVING UP MEANS LETTING GO

You got the big promotion! Congratulations. Well done. You are now in the top 100 leaders group and quite pleased to be a member. You know most of your new staff because they used to be your peers or your previous direct reports. This should be an easy transition for everyone. Well, not entirely.

As I’ve said before, we are creatures of habit and comfort. You got the promotion because you were really good at your job. Now you have a different job and it is tough to let go of that nice competent zone you lived in. You are still interested in the work and progress of your last team. You are still invested in how your major initiatives are going…even if they are under someone’s else direction now. You are still close to a group of colleagues and you are not such a cad that you are just going to ignore them now that you are a big shot. And as excited as you are for all the new responsibilities it is clear there will be growing pains.

So you do what comes naturally to all of us mere mortals. You stay where it is comfortable, knowable, predictable. You have one foot in your new world and the other still in the past. This may be very human of you but it creates so many (unintended) problems.

  • Your replacement can’t seem to draw the attention, loyalty or respect of your previous team because you are still acting like their manager. And the team keeps coming to you because you leave that door open.
  • Your new team observes that you are distracted and not as available as they expected. They see you hanging out in your old space and eating lunch with your old colleagues and generally diverting your attention.
  • As you are plowing through new reports, initiatives and functions that can overwhelm, you “treat” yourself to breaks by spending time checking in on your old projects. When things get tough, you slide back to familiar. 
  • Your old team is getting confused and feels like they have two bosses now. They don’t want to be disloyal to you by committing to their new leader but they want to make a good first impression.
  • Even though you have entered the elite echelon of the organization you still informally trash talk and jabber away with your old posse. You haven’t yet come to understand that being an “officer of the company” requires new social norms.

You get the picture. These are not malicious acts…just blind spots. The good news is that all of this is fixable. Here are some very small, but highly effective, steps you can take to change this dynamic. 

  • Redirect traffic. When former colleagues or staff come to you for guidance (or decisions!!) point them towards their new manager. “Hey, I’d love to help but you really need to turn to Vidhya now.” Do this consistently and very soon everyone will get the message. 
  • Conduct initial interviews with your new direct reports. Take an hour to get to know each of them very early on. Establish an understanding of their roles, competencies, major projects, aspirations and development needs from you. This will help launch the relationship and should uncover a basis for connection.
  • Keep meeting regularly with your new team. As a group and individually, take the time to be with them and deepen your connections. 
  • Get some transition help. Some organizations have great programs for career transitions…an onboarding process of sorts. Take full advantage of it. If your company does not have this then ask your boss or peers to take time to explain both formal and informal activities in your new role. This is especially helpful if done over a meal outside the office.
  • Create some distance from your buddies. Read (re-read) Linda Hill’s “Becoming a Manager” or her newer book “Becoming a Boss”. She writes so well about the emotional and interpersonal dynamics of moving up in an organization and having to make peer group adjustments. I’m not suggesting that you drop kick your friends…just shift the topics you discuss and do it more outside the office than in plain view.
  • Remove yourself from office banter. Once you have been elevated in an organization it is so wrong on so many levels to engage in ordinary office bullshitting. You are now “one of them” and it is important for the leadership group to be aligned and back each other. And that’s not just being polite. It’s about achieving the company goals. If everyone is back stabbing then bad things happen. Besides, ultimately it is a poor reflection on you and your reputation will suffer. I know your clique is a safe home base but you need to move on…and keep your mouth shut.

It’s always hard to let go…no matter how excited you are about what is coming next. In the real world you will only be informed of these intricate dynamics when you’ve screwed up. Don’t wait for that moment. Making these behavior changes is easier than you think. It’s more the emotional attachments (what is happening inside you) that will be trickier.

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