You talk a lot about passion being the key to personal success. Is passion innate or can it be ignited at any point in a person’s career? —Bob March, Fairfield, Conn.
Every one of us knows a few people (or more if we’re lucky) who are perpetually on fire. They’re madly in love with their work, they’re wild about college basketball or the hometown team and they go crazy over old jazz or modern art—whatever.
They just pour their hearts and souls into life. And, given their unrelenting intensity, you can be pretty sure something innate is going on. Let’s not talk about them. Like people born with blue eyes or high arches, they are what they are. It’s more useful to talk about the second part of your question: whether people can actually go from blase‚ to burning hot. And to that, as every good manager already knows, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
My problem may not seem like a problem to you, but it has me completely panicked. My last project was considered a “huge” success, and as a result, I was promoted up three rungs to run a department. I don’t have the experience or the knowledge to do this job. What should I do?—Anonymous, Hartford, Conn
You’re right—we don’t often get letters from people who are worried about rising too fast. In fact, the vast majority of job-related laments we receive are from people bursting with frustration over the sloth-like pace of their ascent.
But don’t take that to mean you’re alone. Hardly! There isn’t a good manager in the world— new, old or in between—who doesn’t have a daily panic attack about the mother lode of stuff he doesn’t know but should, the confounding challenges ahead, and the sheer impossibility of getting it all done.
So, congratulations. You’ve stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets about work. Getting promoted is a double-edged sword: thrilling, yes, but terrifying, too. Everyone is calling you with hearty congratulations and slapping your back, saying you deserve it, and you’re smiling away for them all, feeling a lot less jovial than you look.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your first managerial stint or your move into the CEO’s office. You are the only one who truly comprehends how little you know about the new job, especially when compared to the big, bold expectations your bosses keep mentioning. Whatever happened, you want to scream, to the perfectly logical idea of a grace period?
It’s best not to scream, of course. After all, you’ve been told that leaders need to appear calm and in control, and that’s true. Leaders should look and act like leaders for the sake of their people’s respect and confidence and the organization’s forward momentum.
But being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions: Good leaders are, by definition, insatiable learners, relentlessly probing the minds of people at every level for ideas and insights. They are voracious relationship builders, too, and make sure they get to know everyone in the business who can open their eyes to the who, what and when of the job.
Obviously, you don’t ever want to seem clueless, and we can’t imagine you would, given your past success. You want to appear deeply inquisitive about every aspect of your business and passionate about helping your people to achieve everything necessary to win. Those traits won’t undermine your authority. They’ll enlarge it.
Are we asking you to fake it? No. We’re asking you to reinvent your self-perception according to reality. Right now, you’re experiencing the same feelings that most new leaders do. Do you think that a president feels any different when he’s made the leap from, say, running a little southern state to having his finger on the nuclear trigger? Being in charge of something new starts the game all over again, no matter what you’ve done before.
Take your case. You’re probably looking around at your team and wondering, “When will they realize that I just had one little project that went well?” You’re probably sitting in meetings listening to rapid-fire conversation about products and customers that are filled with so many new names and buzzwords that they might as well be in Urdu. You’re probably reading emails from your boss about the next quarter’s results and you don’t even know your current cash flow yet.
All this may make you want to dub yourself “not ready”. We’re saying that you should dub yourself “normal”. And you will eventually learn what you need to know to do your new job. Six months or a year from now, there will even be days when you feel on top of it all.
But business today changes too fast and has too many variables for any manager to ever have the sustained sense of security you yearn for. Indeed, part of being a leader circa 2007 is being able to live with an “uh-oh” feeling in your stomach all the time.
Don’t let that panic you more! Instead, consider the proposition that continually feeling a bit overwhelmed and underinformed is a positive thing for both you and your business. Everyone knows that too much confidence can lead to arrogance and inertia based on “that’s how we do it around here”. The flip side is an insatiable hunger for new ideas and better ways of doing things—a hunger that makes you fight like hell to win.
Look, we’re not telling you to enjoy yourself right now. Having both walked in your shoes, we feel your knees knocking. But don’t turn and run: Make peace with your panic. It goes with the job.
Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, “Winning’. They would be happy to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. You can email them questions at winning @livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city.