Jumping from one level to another – like going from manager to director – requires a shift in the way you think. The biggest adjustment is recognizing and accepting that you deserve your seat at the table.
I remember my days as a manager. I had multiple layers of bosses between me and the executives in our C-suite. I worked for a director who worked for a VP who worked for an SVP who worked for an EVP who reported to our COO. I was way down the food chain. And life was good.
I had a perception that the members of our C-suite occupied some ethereal world up high on Mount Olympus. You didn’t talk to them. You didn’t look them in the eye. You just respected their existence and appreciated that they chose to let you continue yours.
After a change of jobs, I was a VP. My boss reported to the CEO. When I first took the role, I was in a meeting with members of the senior leadership team including the CEO. I sat there quietly like I was supposed to and I listened attentively to the conversation going on around me. At one point pretty far into the conversation, the CEO looked at me and asked “Hey… You… You just gonna sit there and listen or do you have anything to contribute to this discussion?”
I was caught off guard. Why would he be asking me for my perspective when he was the CEO and there were all these other senior people sitting around the table? Didn’t he realize who he was and how far above me he was in the food chain?
Then it dawned on me. I screwed up.
I was the one limiting my participation in the conversation. I was still holding onto my view of hierarchy from my last role. I hadn’t recognized that my situation had changed and there were different expectations for me. I needed to realize I wasn’t sitting at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving anymore.
When you make a leap in roles, it’s easy to hang onto old mental constructs especially if that leap is within your existing company. The leap is a little easier to make when you join a new company because you might find it easier to set aside old mindsets when you get a fresh start. Ne’ertheless you must deliberately change your mental construct.
1. You’re Invited
The first step to making this shift is to recognize that you’ve been invited to sit at the adult table. You’ve been pulled up a level. If you used to be a manager and you saw VP’s as demigods, you might have trouble sitting with them and jointly problem solving after you’ve been promoted to a director role. You need to remember that the VP wants you at that table with them. They believe you have something to contribute at that next level. Accept that implied compliment and get in there!
2. Prep to Contribute
Next, think about how you’ll break out of old behaviors and into new ones. If your default is to sit quietly and wait to be invited to speak, you’ll need to push yourself to proactively contribute to those conversations. Before your next trip to the adult table. think about the content that is on the agenda. Write down two or three perspectives you think would advance the conversation and be ready to share them in the meeting. Don’t wait to be asked for your opinion. Interject. By writing these perspectives down and preparing them before the meeting, you’ll be more confident when you share them. That confidence will help you get past your old habits and fears related to contributing in a “high risk” situation.
3. “Act as if…”
While you might not feel like a (manager/director/VP/SVP – whatever the role is you were promoted into), you’re seen as one. You are expected to behave as one. Act as if you are. Anytime you hear the little voice in your head tell you that you’re out of your league, remind the voice that you’re sitting at that adult table involved in the adult conversation. The faster you can quiet those negative thoughts, the faster you’ll get comfortable with the new situations you’re in. When that happens, confidence builds and performance improvement follows
Leaps and transitions like these can be challenging. Heightened awareness of our surroundings, increased expectations, and more pressure come with the territory as do increased responsibility and hopefully increased compensation. The sooner you can get past the mindsets that are holding you back, the faster you’ll perform at that next level.
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