When I left university, like many of you I imagine, I pretty much took the first suitable job I could find. One that would give me an ‘in’ to a company I liked the look and feel of, and one that meant I could afford to pay rent every month plus have something of a social life.
I didn’t dream big when I was in my early 20s. My career goal was simply to become a Marketing Manager. It was the early 00s so there was no social media to speak of, so dreaming big and aspirations felt like they weren’t for people like me.
To me, a Marketing Manager role sounded important, responsible, like I had made it and would be playing in the big leagues. Over the years I worked solidly, getting promoted, moving companies, working my way steadily upwards. And I made it. I became a Marketing Manager, then a Director and I learnt some valuable lessons along the way particularly after each promotion and when I was asked to step up as Managing Director for a technology SME.
Not Everyone Is Happy For You
Being called into a meeting with your supervisors with little warning can be a daunting prospect. When you hear the magic words ‘we’d like to ask you to take on the role of….’ You genuinely feel like punching the air. You’re delighted, your family or significant other will most likely be happy for you, your directors or managers promoting you will no doubt be pleased. But be prepared, not everyone will feel that way.
Not everyone will be happy you’re promoted. Some people will be quietly miffed, others will be outwardly displeased and vocal and finally, others could be downright rude.
Be prepared for those who think they have been overlooked or think someone else (their friend maybe or someone they have loyalty to) should have been promoted instead of you. Naturally, if their attitude spills over into poor performance or impacts the company culture negatively, you need to deal with this.
You can handle it in a few ways. You can ride out the storm and let your performance speak for itself. Any change can disrupt a team so it’s worth letting the dust settle initially and any emotions will most likely subside. If not, address it head on. It will be uncomfortable but an adult to adult conversation can get to the root of the problem.
Get Used to Having Difficult Conversations
This segways nicely into the next point. As the boss or manager, you’ll need to get used to having difficult conversations. Whether it’s performance, personal or attitude problems you are going to have to deal with all of them when the buck stops with you.
Being able to navigate difficult conversations is a valuable skill in the workplace. Whilst you won’t seek them out, try not to run from them.
If you’re anticipating a tricky conversation perhaps about behaviour or performance, then these tips will help:
- Know your facts, have undeniable evidence that you can back up
- Try to avoid emotional or accusatory language, going into a conversation on the attack rarely gets the outcome you want
- Breathe and listen – try not to go inside your own head, thinking about what you’re going to say next means you could miss something vital
- Have an outcome in mind for the conversation, know where you want it to go, but be prepared to negotiate.
However, not all difficult conversations will be planned. I wish someone had prepared me for difficult personal conversations, so I was equipped to deal with them. For instance, the time one of my team came out as gay. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but I could see it was huge for them and they had been building up the courage for a while. Or the time a colleague said they were running from an abusive relationship, or the team member who found out he had cancer.
If you’ve been promoted or are in a leading role, it’s likely you have emotional intelligence to navigate these conversations sensitively. I wish I had known how to better support these individuals though. The best advice I can share is to listen. Listen and listen some more, let the person speak – let them get everything out before you interrupt. Also, try not to identify with them or share your own story. The conversation and focus should be on them.
Anyone who believes they’ve hit the top and can’t learn any more should come with a red warning flag.
You’re still learning
Achieving your career goal or ‘making it’ as a Marketing Director or Managing Director, doesn’t mean you stop learning. Anyone who believes they’ve hit the top and can’t learn any more should come with a red warning flag.
Business is constantly evolving, the way we do business, our markets and as people, we are constantly changing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always have the answers but that’s simply not true. There’s a reason we have teams of people around us and different expertise. Whether you are learning the art of delegation or learning how to do a specific task, it is still development. Curiosity is a hugely under-rated quality in managers but those who ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ keep their minds active, are constantly learning and are typically more successful.
There are management courses you can enrol on and a whole internet full of Ted talks and ‘how to’ guides, but these are just a few things that no-one told me about being the boss. Learning along the way has helped shaped my corporate persona, but just sometimes, I wish someone had given me the inside track.