Level-Up #2—Reality Check for the New Vice President

levelupThe Level-Up series at Management Excellence is dedicated to supporting the successful identification and development of new executives.

There are few more simultaneously exciting and disorienting experiences in your professional life than your initial promotion to a corporate position as vice president of something.

A Swirl of Emotions:

The promotion feels good personally, because in your mind, it validates your hard work and the sacrifices you made earlier in your career. And it is gratifying that someone or some group thought highly enough of your work and your potential to trust you at this new level. Congratulations!

It’s exciting, because you are confident that now that you have the title and authority that comes with it, and you’ll be able to push through those sweeping changes you know are needed to keep your firm at the top of the industry.

And it’s a bit disorienting, because there’s a lot of “new” involved. Your peers are new. Your routine is new…new meetings to attend, new reports to generate and new goals and assignments from your boss that are a lot fuzzier and more abstract than those you are used to tackling.  A great deal in this new role feels new, but after all, you haven’t made it this far without embracing change. And how tough can it be to succeed at this level? It’s not much different than every other promotion in your career. Or so you think.

And then reality sets in.

4 Hard Facts of Life in Your New Role as Vice President (and a few thoughts on what to do about them):

1. Don’t expect a ticker tape welcoming parade from your new peers. Title offers you admission to but not credibility in the executive ranks. Don’t expect a great deal of start-up help or even attention from the grizzled veterans sitting around the table with similar titles but eons more experience. To them, you’re furniture until proven otherwise.

A key part of early success or avoiding derailment is to prove credible to these brokers of power, influence and resources. Reach out to them individually. Strive to understand their priorities and in particular, their issues/needs vis a vis your resources and functional areas and then deliver help. If they begin to perceive you are serious about being part of the solution, the barriers will crumble and working relationships will form.

2. There is no honeymoon period. OK, I’ll give you until about mid-morning on your first day. After that, it’s, “what have you done for your firm lately?” Moral to the story: if you’re starting in your new role without an understanding of the terrain and challenges as well as the framework for a plan, you’re already behind.

Quickly focus on understanding your priorities. This includes tuning into the metrics your boss uses to evaluate you as well as learning to understand her priorities and goals. It also includes getting to know your new team members and plugging into their world with 3 simple questions: What’s working? What’s not? What do you need me to do to help you/your area with your goals? Remember to do something with the feedback. Quickly.

3. They promoted you because they trust you to make good decisions. Now make some! They might have left out the part about the issues requiring decisions being significantly more ambiguous than in prior roles and the outcomes being much more impactful. Yes, it’s important to be able to select that next market to penetrate or, to choose what products or programs to cut so that you can focus on things that hopefully will bring more value two years from now. Regardless of the ambiguity, you’re on the hook for some good decisions. Now.

It’s time to exercise those decision-making skills I’ve been writing about in at least 924 of my 1,000 plus posts here at Management Excellence. (OK slight exaggeration, but not by much.) Seriously, learn to leverage framing for fun and profit and be careful of the decision traps that bedevil so much human interaction. Learning to make good decisions or, teaching your new team to make decisions is a lot like that fitness program you’ve been thinking about. The view in the mirror doesn’t change unless you do something about it. Read, study and apply the tools of effective decision-making. Teach your teams to talk and frame and debate effectively, and liberally leverage outside perspectives to help or to sanity check. This is the hard work that will either keep you in this role, propel you to the next level or earn a one-way ticket heading in the opposite direction of the C-Suite.

4. Everyone’s waiting to figure out who you are. Seriously, your new team needs to know what you stand for and what your elevation to the lofty new title means for them. As mentioned earlier, your new peers view you as furniture or white noise until you prove yourself and the boss is excited but looking for validation of the decision to move you up. The title is great, the compensation not bad, but the stakes are high.

Accept that you’ve got to prove yourself all over again and get on with the work. The “What’s Working” discussions referenced above, are a great way to break the ice with your team. While it’s tempting to assert yourself in your first executive meetings, my council is to choose your contributions very deliberately and avoid the tendency to sound like a jackass as you share your pent up concerns about how the company is run. Seek first to understand in your new environment and find ways to prove helpful and supportive. The allies you make now will provide the treasure for revolution later on in your tenure.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Congratulations on your new role and welcome to my reality check. You may have just earned the hardest job in the firm. Or, in any firm.

There’s a reality about the role of Vice President in most organizations that isn’t apparent until you occupy the position. You’re sandwiched between the needs and demands of the CEO and the needs and demands of those below you, and they often are at odds with each other. That and the fact that influencing change from your role may well be harder than doing it from the middle of the pack due to the power and politics swirling around the C-Suite, are sobering but real issues for anyone in this role.

Go into your new arrangement with eyes wide open and with the acceptance that the first-time Vice President’s role isn’t a linear extension of your prior role. A beginner’s mind is healthy in this circumstance, coupled with the recognition that you’re on the clock and under scrutiny from above, from the sides and from below. Seek quickly to understand and then leverage your skills for communication and action, all the while forging new alliances and serving a large number of cantankerous constituencies.

It’s simple.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

1,000 Blog Posts and the Lessons Learned without the Cheering Crowds or Champagne

Success One Step at a TimeA few years ago during a hot Chicago summer, I set a goal to ride my bicycle 1,000 miles. While modest for many hardcore riders, this was a non-trivial challenge for me given time pressures and many other family obligations. Oh yeah, and age and my relative level of fitness may have added just a bit of drama to this personal goal.

As the miles crept closer to the magical number, I motivated myself by imagining the exhilaration of riding the last mile of this personal fitness milestone. It’s possible as I struggled with oxygen deprivation and sweat blurring my eyesight that visions of cheering neighbors hoisting champagne glasses during my last mile may have entered my mind.

The reality was that I goaded my wife and younger son into riding the last mile with me and then we went home and got on with our Saturday. No cheering neighbors. No darned champagne. Nothing but the solid satisfaction of a goal achieved. Priceless. 

Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I noticed the blog counter here at Management Excellence ticking closer to the number 1,000. Again, nothing magical about this number in the world of blogging, and in this case, the post count has never been a goal. The focus of my work here has been and always will be to explore the challenges of managing and leading effectively and to offer ideas, guidance and a bit of inspiration to strengthen personal and organizational performance.

And like any craft that you labor at for an appreciable amount of time, you’re bound to learn a few things along the way. Here are a few of my lessons learned in writing 1,000 posts on management and leadership.

At Least 8 Lessons Learned While Writing 1,000 Management and Leadership Posts:

1. I discovered that I’m not as good of a writer as I thought I was. Ouch! I work hard to presentable to the world in this medium. Oh, and I suck at proofreading. For all of the typos, please accept my sincere apology!

2. My interest in effective leadership and competent management has evolved over time into a burning passion for the pursuit of great leadership and remarkable management. It’s hard to explain, but I love this stuff! (My sixth grade teacher would punish us mercilessly if we ever used the word “stuff.” I trot it out every chance I get!)

3. There’s a reason I called it Management Excellence and not Leadership Excellence. While the pursuit of and practice of great leadership is all too rare in our world and leadership is always an issue or even the issue, it’s the promise of the tools of management to create that keeps my fingers glued to the keyboard and my brain in overdrive. From developing high performance project and management teams to developing and driving great strategies to teaching teams, individuals and organizations to learn how to make better decisions, I’m convinced that we’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic of management…a topic that Gary Hamel calls, “the technology of human achievement.” (I agree with Gary.)

4. I write to help. I’m grateful for the many of you who have reached back to let me know that something here prompted an idea that helped you in your own cause. There are over 1 million words here at Management Excellence, and every one of them is offered up as help.

5. The work of writing this blog has changed the way I learn and create. Every post is an exploration prompted by something in the business environment. The kernel of an idea remains just that until I put fingers to keyboard and think and write. I’m practically helpless without the keyboard or a really big whiteboard.

6. The people I’ve met through this work are truly remarkable. A number of you I hold dear as friends. Thank you for your friendship!

7. This work of writing has transformed me as a professional. Yeah, that sounds corny, but it’s true. This has been the single most powerful, sustained personal professional development activity of my lifetime. I love it. I highly recommend that you try it. With apologies to the original author of this quote, writing is simple, all you do is stare at a blank page (screen) until drops of blood form on your forehead.

8. I’ve learned that I’m long winded and I need to work harder at getting to the point and then tying things off. Therefore…

The Bottom-Line for Now:

That’s enough time reflecting. There’s work to be done in the world of management. Thanks for being here and I’ll see you during the next 1,000.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.



Leadership Caffeine—The Struggles Really Do Make Us Stronger

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

The world of leadership development lost a giant at the end of July this past summer, when Warren Bennis passed away. In tribute, I’m including his classic article, “Crucibles of Leadership” (HBR, fee required) with Robert Thomas in one of my leadership courses this year. Revisiting this article is always inspirational both for myself and for the students who share their own crucible experiences including: personal loss, business and career struggles, and being on the receiving end of discrimination, sexism and racism. I’m humbled not only at the hardships these good professionals have endured, but at their remarkable attitudes about surviving and leveraging the experience for good in their lives.

In case you’re not familiar with how Bennis and Thomas applied the term crucible to professional development, consider: “…the crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered to them. It required them to examine their values, questions their assumptions, hone their judgment.”

Almost to a person, the students in my courses describing their own crucible experiences look back at them as transformational in their careers. The strength it took to endure the hardship translated into resolve and commitment to persevere, to make right a wrong for others and to do good in their own lives.

In my own hiring practices, I look and listen for the challenges and struggles, more than the successes. While this doesn’t crop up in many articles on best practices in hiring, I’ve used it to good success.

Consider this very real crucible scenario I encountered a few years ago:

I traveled from my home city across the country to interview two very different candidates for an important strategic leadership position on my team. The first candidate boasted a nearly spotless record of achievement and accomplishments and his career progression looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, gaining responsibility and altitude with each passing year. His life story read like a storybook…the one we all wish we might enjoy.  He was indeed a solid professional and almost a no-brainer of a hire.

The other candidate’s record was good, however, there were several points in time when things appeared to have gone wrong. A start-up failure was the first red flag, followed by a few years of seeming under-employment. Strikes one and two in many books. As I probed a bit more, it was clear the individual quickly had established herself as a leader in her under-employed role. A definite positive. Finally, upon closer review of her background, it was clear there was a gap of about 7 months followed by still more under-employment, albeit, once again moving quickly to a position of responsibility in a struggling not-for-profit. The roller-coaster was confusing to me. However, since that time she had rebounded nicely, recently passing the three year mark in a role of significant responsibility with a well-regarded firm. And while my position was likely a stretch role for her, she was in the game, but not nearly as attractive on paper as the other candidate.

I always like to do my own reference checking (I know, H.R. professional everywhere are shuddering) and during the course of the discussion with one of her bosses from the under-employed phase of her career, he volunteered how much he admired her for her ability to navigate life’s challenges. I probed a bit and it turned out that she had spent several years living through a litany of crucible moments, including serving as the care-giver for a terminally ill parent and then navigating the loss of her spouse and her new role as a single parent. I was told that her start-up had fallen victim to an unscrupulous financial advisor, although according to her former boss, she viewed herself as 100% accountable for that employee and in fact had repaid all of her friends and family investors over the years.

I reached back to her and asked very generally for her to talk about the challenges she had encountered and what they had taught her. What I uncovered was an attitude in the face of adversity that was truly remarkable and humbling. I doubt I would have conducted myself as well as she did.

The first candidate was compelling for all of the right reasons.

I hired the second candidate without hesitation. There was no charity case here. Both candidates were qualified, although one was stronger on paper. Nonetheless, I was (and am) committed to fielding the absolute best talent to help our organization grow and an individual who had fought through hardship and evidenced the ability to survive and ultimately prevail, would bring a level of personal and leadership depth and hunger to succeed far beyond that of my more traditional and well-heeled candidate.

She was a great hire and continues to prosper in her career.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your struggles and even your failures are important elements of who you are as a leader.  A track-record of chronic failures is different than having encountered and survived a profound setback in your life. It’s the setbacks, the unexpected crises and your approach to surviving and persevering through these crucible moments that forge your character as a person and as a leader. Learn, live and lead. And as a hiring manager responsible for building your team’s and your organization’s leadership future, open your eyes to people who understand what it means to struggle, survive and ultimately succeed.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


It’s Your Career—Resolve to Conquer Your Fear of Speaking

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

A frighteningly few number of people genuinely relish the idea of getting up in front of an audience at work and talking.That’s too bad, because there are few skills that will take you further and help you more in your career than developing your speaking skills.

4 Big Benefits in the Workplace of Conquering Your Fear of Speaking:

1. You separate yourself from the herd. Your willingness to stand and engage coupled with the competence developed through practice puts you in a smaller group and helps you stand out to your senior managers, peers and colleagues across your organization. Of course, people are looking for more than hot air! Message quality, authenticity and supporting actions are essential!

2. You develop a platform for your ideas. In a culture where ideas to improve, fix, or do something new are potentially worth their weight in gold, you need influence and a platform to ensure your ideas are heard, explored and acted upon. There are few better ways to support developing influence and cultivating interest in our ideas, than being able to describe and advocate for them comfortably and competently in large group settings.

3. You are increasingly perceived as a leader. While there’s no connection between extroversion and effective leadership that I am aware of, people PERCEIVE that you have leadership qualities if you can confidently articulate your views. It’s OK to leverage this perception. And remember, there’s a reality in the workplace that you have to understand how you are perceived and manage this appropriately, developing comfort and confidence in your speaking skills will aid this cause. Again the health warning that no one loves a pontificating blowhard, so message quality and authenticity count!

4. You develop self-confidence that leads to strengthened self-esteem. And when that unexpected but much coveted invitation to present at the board meeting or executive offsite occurs, this self-confidence will be one of your best assets in surviving and succeeding in this new setting.

It’s time to confront your fear of speaking and make this critical skill a valuable part of who you are as a professional.

6 Tips for Cultivating Competence and Confidence in Your Speaking Skills:

1. Practice! Seek out some easy opportunities to practice. Departmental or team updates can be fairly non-threatening.  Alternatives include community events, classroom visits, or school committees. I teach a number of graduate management courses every year. Nothing forces one to up the game more than being accountable to an intelligent group of professionals for quality content delivery and facilitation.

2. Seek feedback. Ask your boss and peers for specific feedback on your speaking performance and effectiveness.  What should you do more of?  Where do you need to improve.  Don’t settle for, “that was great!”  No one gets better by being told they were great. Ask: What worked? What didn’t? How could that presentation been more effective?

3. Seek help. Search on “Toastmasters” and find a local chapter and join! These remarkable groups of professionals all understand the benefits that accrue from strengthening speaking skills and will become your best feedback and support network. In the rare chance you end up in a chapter that doesn’t work for you, don’t give up…just switch to another one. I’ve pushed more team members than I can count into Toastmasters and almost to a person they have prospered in part because of their growth in self-confidence.

4. Reference a good book or great blogs. My favorites: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy Koegel or the blog (Public Words) and books of Dr. Nick Morgan.

5. Engage a Coach. People use coaches for great reasons. They view us objectively and clinically and can offer the critical input we need to eliminate weaknesses, close gaps, and enhance strengths. Ask your manager if there’s an opportunity for your firm to bear the cost. If not, don’t let that slow you down. The cost is small when factored over the course of a career and evaluated against the potential benefits.

6. Volunteer. Yep, you heard me. After a lifetime of sitting in the back row dodging the teacher’s eyes, it’s time to stand up and assert your great ideas. Once you recover from the out-of-body experience from raising your hand for a speaking opportunity, you’ll find it exhilarating.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Don’t let a common and irrational fear of speaking in large groups stand in the way of your success. Developing the confidence to stand, deliver and engage is liberating and professionally profitable.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Art of Managing—In Searching for Talent, Emphasize Potential

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

The article, “21st Century Talent Spotting—Why potential now trumps brains, experience, and competencies,” in the June, 2014 issue of HBR by Claudio Fernandez-Araz, is must reading for every manager concerned about putting the right management and leadership talent in place to grow his/her organization. (And yes, every manager should be concerned about this significant challenge.)

The author builds a case for shifting away from the competency model (core skills and experiences) that has dominated hiring practices for the recent past, to one that emphasizes assessing a candidate’s potential in the form of, “the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles.”

Raised Eyebrows and Victories:

I’ve long been a fan of build versus buy or, hire the best athletes when it comes to talent acquisition, although admittedly, my selections have raised some eyebrows in the more traditional HR environments. One hire to help build out a new initiative had no experience whatsoever in the function I was hiring her for, yet she brought a deep understanding of the customers we were pursuing. In this case, the HR executive who not so politely wondered whether I had lost my mind, was professional enough to loop back after I invited him to the interview process, to offer, “Now I get it.” The outcome was excellent, as she quickly provided much needed customer context for our strategy work, while learning the ins and outs of a new discipline.

Another hire that proved to be remarkably valuable was the recruit from the retail world for a technology sales role. There’s not a hiring model in existence that would have led anyone to this individual, however, the attributes he displayed in winning for his firm, team and store in his retail role were so powerful, I had to give him a shot in my world. He is now a Senior Director in one of the world’s largest and most successful software firms.

The Big Five Indicators (Plus Some):

The focus of the author’s model is on assessing five key indicators: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. (He also appropriately highlights need to gauge intelligence, values and leadership abilities as part of the process.) The emphasis on the five indicators shifts the weighting away from prior experience in the job and places a tremendous emphasis on the ability of the individual to both learn and adapt. The oft-cited assessment philosophy of, the best predictor of future success is prior performance, is significantly diluted in this approach.

Of Risk and Return:

In addition to a number of noteworthy successes in my own too ad-hoc approach to this style of talent assessment, I’ve also misfired on several occasions. In one case, I failed to recognize the true complexities of quickly learning the new role, and the individual struggled to win the confidence and respect of his colleagues. In another, the individual failed to gravitate to the new role at all, preferring to avoid situations where her expertise was less important than her ability to execute on her core position responsibilities. Both were frustrating situations for all parties, and I learned to avoid future gaffes (like these) through better pre-hiring dialogue over a longer time frame and significantly increased exposure to the demands of the very new role for the candidates.

Invest in Potential and Then Push to Stretch:

Fernandes-Araz concludes the article with an emphasis on “Stretch Development” for the high potential hires. In his words, “When it comes to developing executives for future leadership assignments, we’re constantly striving to find the optimal level of discomfort in the next role or project, because that’s where the most learning happens.” The stretch work is also where you find out whether your initial assessment of potential was on or off the mark.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Talent is the difference-maker in this world, and identifying, securing and developing the right talent is arguably the most important task of managers in the enterprise. You don’t fulfill on mission, effectively serve customers or appropriately reward stakeholders without the right people on board…all learning, growing and adapting to market  conditions. If shifting your viewpoint and recruiting approaches off of the like-kind prior experience model will give you a potential boost, it’s worth the risk. Your batting average on hires that stick might slip a bit, but the upside is worth the cost of the experimentation.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.