I was having a conversation recently with a young leader who just got promoted to her first ‘big’ job.  She was excited, gratified, and scared to death!  It got me thinking about the concept of doubt and fear in our professional lives and how it can be a very positive motivator.

Taking on a big new job certainly can be seen as a major stretch challenge.  I can recall new jobs filled with nervousness and feelings of taking in new information and impressions at a rate that could not be easily digested – the drinking from the firehose analogy.  I had some doubts and the task seemed overwhelming.

These feelings are both normal and good.  The key for success is to couple that fear and doubt with an idea of how to ‘start’ the new challenge.  You don’t need to know all the answers now – just how to start.  The rest will come.

Here is some advice that I would offer to the new leader – how to start that new challenge:

  1. It is good to challenge yourself now and then. Self-doubt leaves one more open to consider the opinions of others.  It’s called humility and it is a good thing.
  2. We each only have one opportunity to make a first impression – what do you want that to be? I would suggest that coming in confident, energetic and motivated is your best approach to a new assignment.  Don’t come in as the ‘answer’ to the problems, but rather as the person who is here to be accountable and to make things better.
  3. Realize that being a great leader does NOT mean having all the answers. Obviously when you start a new role with a new company, there are many things you do not know.  You will need to learn from the people who work for you in addition to those around you.  Don’t be afraid of that – be open about it and invite opinions and input from everyone.  The more you ask, the more quickly you will learn.  Don’t pretend to know things that you don’t – it will become clear at some point that you don’t and that will destroy your credibility.
  4. Create a list of your key internal customers (and maybe external ones as well). Set up 30 minute meetings with them as soon as possible to learn what they want and need from your function and your role.  Make sure you ask everyone what success in this role means to them.  Eventually, you will be able to sift through all of these ideas to create your own vision of success.
  5. Listen – a lot! Ask questions, take notes and resist the temptation to draw conclusions right away.  Understand that you will hear slightly different things from different people.  They are all telling you the truth – just from their own perspective.  Your job is first to ‘seek to understand’ as Stephen Covey said and then later to try to make sense of it all.
  6. Start to organize all of the information that is coming at you into ‘buckets’ of content. These are functional areas within your operation.  It will help you to sort and eventually prioritize what needs to be done if you can start to see a pattern in the chaos of data and information. For example, when I evaluate a new human resources function, I will sort things into categories such as a) employee benefits, b) staffing and recruiting, c) compensation, and so on.
  7. If possible, give yourself 60 days of watching, listening, and learning before you start making any big changes. Tell your boss and your team that is what you are doing and that you plan to organize and write up your thoughts into a work plan by the 90 day mark.
  8. Use your buckets and write up your ‘overview of the landscape’ by 90 days in the job. Evaluate the strength of each area and note opportunities for improvement.  Use this as the basis for a discussion with both your boss and your new team.  Do they think you got it right?  How can we then prioritize the opportunities in order to importance and degree of difficulty?  This becomes your work plan for the first year on the job.  You have clarified expectations and let your team know where they are going.
  9. Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members – both direct and indirect reports. Recall that they, like you, are looking to succeed in their careers.  Set up time to meet with them one on one and ask questions about what they like to do and where they want to go professionally.  This will help you to develop and motivate them in the future and it will make it easier to focus them on various portions of the action plan.
  10. Check back early and often with all of your key stakeholders. This will either allow you to course correct if needed or will provide a much needed boost of confidence as you become more settled and comfortable in your new leadership role.

These ten ideas won’t solve all of your problems, but they can be the foundation for a roadmap to success in your new role.  It’s normal to doubt your own abilities when beginning a new venture – so having an idea of how to approach it can be a good starting point on the road to success.