When I was a teenager learning how to drive, I remember being told to “look where you want to go.” The idea was that you are likely to steer in the direction you’re looking, so instead of staring down the tree you’re headed towards, look towards the open space beside it so you can avoid the impact.
As I have learned since, this is as true for driving a car as it is for driving a career.
I was once hired for an awesome management role. Upon taking it, I was asked to do an informal meet & greet with my peers before starting. After the perfunctory polite greetings, the tone changed; the chat quickly turned into an interview. I answered their first couple questions, but I then said, “you know that I’ve already accepted the job, right?” They backed down a bit, but it became clear to me that they weren’t happy about not being directly involved in the hiring decision. This didn’t bode well.
I became quite conscious that my peers weren’t necessarily rooting for me. It was intimidating to know that I had to not only gain the trust of my team, but I also had to worry about gaining the trust of my peers as well. I didn’t want to make a poor first impression so I didn’t ask for help. I just put on my big boy pants and got to work. After a few months I started to feel like I was able to make great progress – I was connecting with my team and the people around me, and we were making an impact on the business – but I couldn’t help but feel insecure. Thankfully, this feeling became less intense over time.
About a year into my job, my manager decided to make more changes. I was asked to take on the management of another team that was having issues. Again, I felt my sense of responsibility kick in - it’s flattering to be asked to take on a challenge, and I felt like this was necessary to help the team and the business. Big boy pants stayed on.
My new team did not like how their previous manager was summarily set aside; he was generally well-liked despite the team’s difficulties. A couple of them were passive aggressive towards me as their new manager. I overcompensated by trying to show them that I was, indeed, more than qualified by showing them work from my portfolio. A few were politely curious about it, whereas others found it to be self-centered and insecure – and they weren’t shy about telling me so.
I recovered and did what I thought I should have done first – focus on the team and the work. I’ve done it before, and I could do it again. I tried to find the right opportunities for everyone on my team, even those who were most skeptical or hostile. I tried to look past those problems instead of addressing them since their differences seemed to primarily be with me and not anyone else. I realized later that this was a mistake, but my confidence wasn’t where it needed to be in order to be as effective or decisive as I should have been.
For too long I was in fear of failing – failing to live up to the expectations of my peers and my team. I kept on looking at where I could screw it up instead of where I wanted to go. It took longer than I would care to admit, but month by month I gained back my lost confidence. Unfortunately I know that I didn’t consistently perform at the level I knew I could because of this fear.
This experience was difficult to go through, but it reminded me of three very important things.
First, to focus on what I want to accomplish, not what I’m scared of. Many of us experience fear and anxiety in our jobs especially when we start a new one, but when we focus on the fear, we make it real.
Second, ask for help when I need it. This has always been very hard for me because I’m proud of my independence and ability to rise to the occasion, but it’s prideful to believe you don’t need any help. At some point, we all do.
Third, as a manager, it’s important for me to create the conditions for my team to feel like they can succeed. I want them to feel like they’re not just being thrown into the deep end, but that I’m invested in their success and am willing to help, especially when asked.
The more we can look where we want to go, the more likely we are to get there… and hopefully we can better enjoy the journey along the way.