Managing the ‘New Leader Expectations’ Trap

Young creative manager feeling the pressure“I’ve only been in my new role two months, and already I’m totally overwhelmed,” gasped Audrey. “Everyone wants a piece of me. And I can’t possibly live up to all their expectations!”

Audrey was a strong player in the organization when she took on her new role. She had done some impressive work in her previous assignments, and when she took on the leadership of a business unit with some problems, expectations of her were outsized. Everyone from her boss to her employees to her business partners was looking for major change in the twinkle of an eye. And Audrey felt an obligation to respond glowingly. After all, this was why she’d been promoted into this role, and it could be her career-breakout position.

Whoa, Audrey!  When leaders in new roles try too hard to meet unrealistic expectations, they more often doom themselves to a flame-out. Who can single-handedly respond to every request for an analysis and opinion, to every demand for an expert decision, to every hope for a clear vision?  It’s a recipe for disaster.

A wise leader in a new role that begins to see signs of unrealistic expectations will do well to consider a few rapid responses:

  • Name your priorities. Make it clear where you plan to start, and why your focus needs to be there. Identify who will fill in on the other, lower priority decisions and work.
  • Set realistic expectations around timelines. If there are big demands, put stakes in the ground around when people can realistically expect the results they want.
  • Name some generals. Give some people authority to act on your behalf, with liberal rights to make some mistakes. Defend them when things don’t pan out.
  • Place priority on infrastructure and capacity. Develop people and get the right people in the right roles. Only then will you generate the ability to meet expectations in the long haul.
  • Say ‘no’ a few times. As with anything, you’ve got to practice saying ‘no’. Try it out on some smaller issues so you can graduate to the trickier ones.
  • Take off the cape. Don’t try to be Superman. The super-human efforts cause problems in balance, as well as in setting a pattern of unrealistic expectations of you. If you can be Superman once, you’ve accepted the persona permanently.
  • Try ‘yes, with these limits’ responses. Set your boundaries. “Yes, I’ll offer an opinion on the new marketing plan, but only after it’s been through the regular review process and everyone else’s opinions are incorporated.” “Yes, I’ll go to that meeting with you, but I expect you to be the spokesperson. I’ll back you if needed.”

Want to boost your career?  Be sure you’re not overwhelming yourself, for starters. Give yourself a fair chance to show what leadership skill you really have by managing the ‘new leader expectations’ trap.

Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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