It’s perfectly normal for people to feel outside their comfort zone when appointed to a more senior position – but it’s how they handle that discomfort that matters.
I’ve seen managers promoted to senior leadership roles who – feeling that they are under the spotlight – become so concerned not to make a mistake or be seen as not up to the job, that they fall into the trap of micro-managing everyone below them.
Instead of trusting that those who have been in their roles for some time do actually know what they are doing, the newly appointed manager questions every single item that comes across their desk, even to the point of rewriting the copy themselves.
The message the new leader communicates to those below when they do this is: “I don’t trust you”.
The unfortunate outcome is that people stop offering their advice and insights, and the manager very quickly becomes isolated. That’s not a good position to be in, as it can be very lonely at the top. Senior leaders need their trusted advisors in order to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in their organisation. Being isolated makes it harder to do their jobs well.
The other unfortunate outcome is the negative impact on employee engagement, and therefore performance and productivity. Research shows that leaders need to provide supportive, trusting environments for employees to fully invest their energies into their work (see How can leaders achieve high employee engagement?).
So, paradoxically, the newly appointed leader who so desperately wants to do well, ends up damaging relationships and negatively impacting performance within their organisation.
If you are promoted or appointed to a more senior position, it’s obviously a great opportunity to advance your professional career. Don’t let it be your downfall:
- Recognise that it’s normal to feel outside your comfort zone to begin with, so have some measures in place to ensure you feel supported – engage a coach or mentor. Your manager should also be your supporter, so try to have ‘coaching conversations’ with them from the beginning.
- Make sure you don’t inadvertently communicate the wrong messages to those below you through micro-managing. Spend time getting to know others’ strengths before discounting their advice.
- As well as highlighting the importance of providing supporting, trusting environments, the research shows that direct reports react positively to leaders who behave in ways that support the team, so take a genuine interest in their development and celebrate successes from the start.
- See also previous blog post on Finding opportunities to lift employee engagement.
Lucy Sanderson-Gammon, MBA, is director of Luminous Consulting Limited. She provides management and communications consultancy and short term contracting services, as well as business and career coaching, and manager communications training.