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Newly minted executive feeling uncertain in the job

Coach's Corner--October 26, 2009

The Client
Name: Pat
Age: 44
Title: Executive level
Industry: Agribusiness
Issue: Moving gracefully down the ladder...or not
Q. In a move that surprised me, I was promoted to an executive level a while back. My performance reviews have been OK; however, other senior leaders have questioned whether I’m consistently operating at that level. I sometimes wonder whether I have the “executive presence” to do the job effectively. I’m thinking about requesting a move back down a level. Is this too risky? What do you suggest?

A. It’ll help to sort out what you’d like to be doing and ways you might be holding yourself back.

The inner game
Focus on what you like to do. Think about the tasks, influence, style of interactions, and responsibility that go with each level, from staff to executive, to determine where you’d prefer to be. Consider your proximity to production of the company’s actual product or service — some people like being closer to the action. Set aside external perspectives, and just think about where you’d thrive.

Examine the assets you bring — there’s a reason you were promoted. Build confidence in your skills, and also think about ways you could grow, but without harsh inner judgment. If you’re feeling shaky, returning to a positive view of yourself is essential, whatever role you’re in.

Understand the attitudes and behaviors that lead to success as an executive in your company. Pay particular attention to leaders who could be role models for you due to similarities of temperament and style. “Executive presence” isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it’s important to understand what it means in your setting.

If you’re anxious, try taking a few deep breaths; it can make a big difference. Also, ask yourself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” — and consider how realistic it is. Confronting vague fears can help rein them in.

The outer game
As you make this decision, seek additional resources to assist you. Whichever path you take, finding good mentors will help you execute it effectively.

Decide what you’re choosing, not just what you’re moving away from. Decisions made to avoid an uncomfortable situation seldom turn out well, so be sure that you’re going toward a preferred future.

Now, Path A: moving gracefully down the ladder. Do some legwork, identifying areas where you could bring value in your company. Get to know the people you’d be working for and create a situation where bringing you on is a win for them. Prepare to explain your step “down” in terms of its fit with your interests. Be able to describe the challenges and convey your excitement at your new role.

Next, Path B: succeeding in your current role. It’s likely that you need to amp up your professional development in order to be comfortable and to meet your company’s expectations. Get detailed and direct feedback, perhaps through a 360 assessment, and set goals that’ll give you a big boost. Use your mentor or get a coach to help you achieve these goals. You may find that you have the ability, and just need a bit more work to shine.

The last word
Whichever path you select, do so with commitment so that you’re able to contribute and feel good about your professional situation.


Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted October 26, 2009
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