It’s Not Just You: Three Ways to Get Your Confident Self Into the Game

Posted 11.15.2010

Last week I spent an afternoon talking with about 60 newly promoted executives of a well known global company.  The group had flown in from around the world and the topic was how to lead at the next level.  The framing question for my work with executives is what do you pick up and what do you let go of to achieve the different results that are expected of you in a bigger job?

One of the first things we talked about is the need to pick up confidence in your presence and let go of doubt in how you contribute in your new executive role.  To get the conversation going,  I shared this question combined with a story –

How many of you have been in this situation?  You’re the newest member of the leadership team and it’s your first regularly scheduled team meeting. It’s you and 10 or 12 other people gathered around the conference table and it’s that part of the meeting where everyone is going around the table giving their 3 or 4 minute weekly update.  The way the table is set up that day, you’re at the far end of one side of the table and the check-ins start with the person opposite you and then the ball is passed to the right until, thirty minutes or so later, it’s your turn. Of course, you’re not hearing a whole lot of what’s said in that 30 minutes because the little voice inside your head is jabbering away with helpful comments like:

You’ve got nothing.  These people are all so well informed and you don’t know beans.  You’re going to look like an idiot when it’s your turn.  How did you get here anyway?  There must have been some glitch in the succession plan that got you onto this team.  Everyone here is smarter and more experienced than you.  Geesh, they’re even better looking than you are.  I hope you don’t screw this up.  Please, don’t screw this up.

Most of the people in the room laughed a little nervously or sheepishly when I played out the scenario.  I asked them what they were thinking and a guy nearby looked up and said, “Thank God, it’s not just me.”  He’s right – it’s not just him and it’s not just you.  Just about any time you move up into a new leadership role, you’re going to feel the nerves as you get your feet on the ground and figure out how the new game is played.  The goal is to get through that period as quickly as possible so you can confidently do what you’re expected to do.

Based on some of the advice from senior executives featured in my book,  The Next Level, here are three tips on how to pick up confidence and let go of doubt:

Remember the Reason:  When that internal voice starts jabbering at you, remember that you were invited to the leadership table for a reason.  There is some combination of experience, perspective and potential that the decision makers saw in you.  If they invite you to the leadership table, they expect you to contribute.  They believe you have something to contribute or they wouldn’t have invited you.

Ask Around:  Check in with your new peers to get their perspective and advice on regular events like leadership team meetings.  Ask about the spoken and unspoken rules of the road, the expectations, what kind of information is shared and how and why it is.  The more you can create a picture of what to expect and how you fit into that picture, the more confident you’re going to feel.

Listen More, Talk Less:  In most organizations, newly promoted leaders are going to be well served if they spend more time the first few weeks listening, observing and asking questions and less time talking.  Your goal should be to form some outside-in impressions.  There can be a lot of value in asking questions that don’t normally get asked.  Being the new person on the team can often give you a license to ask them.  You don’t have to have all the answers in your first few weeks on the job.  Listen, ask, watch and learn.  You’ll end up with better answers as a result.

What about you?  What’s worked for you when you’ve been the new person on the leadership team?  If you were coaching or mentoring someone facing that situation, what advice would you give them?