Congrats on the promotion, hope you liked being happy

You’ve worked hard, long nights, schmoozing with the boss, taking on extra assignments, studying at night for that course or exam, all in an effort to get that big shiny promotion. Now that you’ve been promoted, you’ve got it made, right? Time to pop the champagne and reap what you’ve sown? Unfortunately you’re not quite there just yet.

Charles thought he had it all figured out. Starting out in the helpdesk, he hustled his way further and further up the chain at his medium sized tech support company. He got 6 certifications in a single year. He put in unpaid overtime when the power outage left a key client spinning up backups. His boss noticed his hard work too, even took Charles out for a beer after a late night of paperwork. That’s how Charles knew he’d be the perfect fit for the team lead role that was just created to help manage the troops.

Up until now, work was pretty easy for Charles. Most good decisions came naturally, and he was able to over-achieve by trying just a little bit. The exams he wrote took studying, but he could balance that during work hours. Sure, there were some late nights, but it was mostly easy work that meant spending more time with a few good friends he made on the team. But this was Charles’ big shot, a management spot. This was something to be proud of, something new, with this he’d be a big shot.

Of course Charles got the job. He was perfect for it. He nailed it in the interview, and he already had the respect of his colleagues. When they announced that Charles got the promotion, nobody was surprised, but everybody was happy for him, they even got him a cake.

What Charles didn’t realize was that nothing would ever be the same again. Right away he was thrown into some of the most grueling weeks of his life. He was staying at least 3 hours late each night, just to stay on top of the work. Everything was disorganized, there were emails and voicemails coming in from left and right, and it seemed like there was always a fire to put out somewhere — an angry client here, some office drama there. It was a nightmare. Depending on the day, Charles wavered between wishing he was back in the helpdesk and looking up “resignation letter templates” on Google. There was just no way the extra money and couple perks he got with this new job could possibly be worth it. The hardest part for Charles was wondering if it was just a big mistake, applying for this job.

Charles isn’t alone. While promotions are a cause for celebration, once the celebrating is over the hard work begins. Getting a promotion is a marathon, and most people tire themselves out by sprinting before they even apply for the job. What nobody ever tells you is that promotions are a radical change for any person to go through, especially when they involved completely new work, responsibilities, and earning and maintaining people’s respect.

Change is hard, even if you asked for it

Change is hard for everybody. The fact that you knowingly and willingly applied and accepted the promotion doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve been doing the same thing, every single day, for awhile now. But all of that stops with a promotion. Now your day is completely different. You’re doing different work. People see you differently, they treat you differently, and you treat them differently in return. Often times you’re learning as you go, and no company has everything documented, so you’re going to be chasing down answers to questions that nobody has.

Everything is different

If you’re lucky, you’re new position is well-established. You’re replacing someone that left on good terms, and your company has set expectations, a good job description, and you fall into a set bureaucracy with status reports, structured meetings, and channels of communication. But no matter what, nothing’s perfect. What’s already in place will have holes in them, and they’ll drive you nuts. It’ll take time to truly appreciate why those holes exist, but in the meantime, those imperfections in the (hopefully) well oiled machine will drive you nuts.

Your superpower — seeing what’s wrong

The worst part is when you look around and see what’s missing. “How do they not have a process for this?”. “How haven’t they figured this out already?”. You’re going to see problem after problem, clear as day, and that will be your own little superpower. Nobody else will see those problems as clear as you, because they’ve been living with them, day in, day out, like a bad knee that hurts when it rains. It’s normal, and it’s amazing what people can learn to live with. But until you learn to live with it, it’s going to be frustrating.

Change takes time

Lasting, effective change takes time. There’s no silver bullet for speeding things up. If you’ve just gotten a promotion, things are going to be hard for awhile. They just are. Strap in, buckle up, and be prepared. But there are things you can do to soothe the pain and make the transition easier.

  1. Recognize it’s a process, and the process takes time
  2. Get into the habit of making things better
  3. Set milestones and celebrate small victories
  4. Recognize that the problems were there before you, and you can’t fix them overnight
  5. Be kind to yourself. Meditate, exercise, do the things you love, even indulge in some of your vices. Through times of significant change, if you’re too tightly wound, you can be prone to snapping

A million small changes

Promotions aren’t one big change, they’re a series of tiny changes. Others recognize and celebrate the one big change, but you’re the one that will have to navigate the see of small changes. Remember that you’re right for the job — the hiring committee wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t. Recognize that change takes time, and you can only do so much to increase the pace. Try to fix problems as you come across them, but don’t seek perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Make things better, not perfect. Fix them and move on. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, and if you focus too long on the first things that raises it’s head, you won’t have the energy or fortitude to keep making things better, resulting in problems piling up.

The important thing is believing in yourself. You can do this. Remember that the desires of yesterday are still valid today. You’ve achieved something great. You put yourself out there, and were recognized for the hard work you’ve done. Be kind to yourself, be true to yourself, and forge ahead.

And if it doesn’t pan out, just quit — you’re nobody’s prisoner.

One millennial’s struggle moving into management

I first stepped into a leadership role at the age of 28. At that time, nobody I was close with had really managed a team before. Like many people, I saw this opportunity as the obvious next step, a move in the right direction — up. It would be a great opportunity for me to build a skill set I didn’t have. My career up to that point had been focused on getting computers to do what I wanted them to do, in an efficient way. I was good at it too. Every job I had, I would collect all of the boring work I was expected to do and I would automate it so that a computer would do it for me. This made my productivity and effectiveness skyrocket, which is what probably led to this promotion in the first place. I remember someone early in my career warning me though, “with computers you tell them what to do once, and they do it, exactly as you told it. People, not so much…”. What I want to talk about today are some of the unexpected challenges I ran into moving away from leveraging computers and into leveraging people. By no means do I regret it, and I’m not telling you to dissuade you from moving into management, but I want to share my story to help prepare others for their journey ahead.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Early in my career I never bothered to stick around a company for more than a year. That meant that people came and went, without the opportunity to really get to know them. My whole career I was always the youngest in every team I worked with. By a lot. That meant that we didn’t have a lot in common. I have fond memories of all of my coworkers, but I never really crossed paths with people that I ended up going out with after work — they were workplace proximity associates.

After being promoted into a leadership position, and sticking around a company for long enough to form some bonds, I realized that my relationship to my coworkers would need to remain professional. Wherein before I never knew anyone well enough to see after hours, in my new position it wasn’t really something I could do even if I wanted to. I promised myself I would be a non-traditional leader — someone who didn’t care about what the typical picture of a manager was. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s easy to form the appearance of favoritism. Having lunch with the same team member every day, grabbing a beer with someone after work, casually texting or messaging people outside of work… Yikes! Those would all have significant consequences at the end of the day.

In an organization, the pool of people that you can be friends with is typically your group of peers — the people on the same level in the hierarchy as you. Most hierarchies shrink near the top, which means the higher up you get, the less people you have to draw on. This can be challenging, when you run into a tough situation that you just want to vent about, when you want to talk through a problem with someone else.

You’re involved in everything

I remember a time when someone would bring me a problem and I would say “oooooo that’s a tough one, you should talk to the boss about that”. All of the hard stuff gets kicked up to management. That means that there’s a filter. Problems float upwards in an organization. Hopefully there’s a filter, so that you aren’t dealing with every problem in the organization. If there is, you reduce the over all number, but that filter only eliminates the easy stuff. It’s the hard stuff that gets through. If your team has a lot of problems, or aren’t used to solving problems on their own, then day after day, hour after hour, you’re going to be working on solving really hard problems. In Star Trek they have a test called the Kobyashi Maru — it’s impossible to win, and it’s used to assess your decision making when faced with a no-win scenario. It’s not uncommon for leadership to be filled with these scenarios, and it can get taxing on your brain, and your confidence. When you’re always focused on just getting by, it can feel like you’re never doing a really good job, unless you have the perspective and headspace to step back and see the big picture.

Your brain never stops

This is a by product of the above challenge. Gone are the days of performing a task. With your new found promotion you don’t perform tasks, you solve problems. Sounds exciting right?! Problem after problem, day after day. Have you ever had a really intense debate with someone where you were constantly challenged and had to keep thinking of ways to get your point across? Or have you ever played a challenging game like chess with an opponent worth your time? Remember in school where you had 5 papers, 3 exams and a presentation all due in the same week? That’s what leadership is — all the time. When you think of manual labor it’s clear to understand the soreness and pain that comes from working with your hands, standing, lifting and moving all day. Your muscle ache, your joints hurt. Everybody can empathize with that. Your brain is a muscle too, and if you spend all day every day flexing a single muscle, that things going to get sore. It’s going to ache. It’s going to fatigue. Take care of your brain. Don’t strain it, recognize when it’s tired and give it a break.

You only have so much emotional energy

Emotional intelligence is becoming an increasingly popular skill for leaders. That’s because to be a good leader in the 21st century, you need to care. You need to empathize with your team. You need to care about the customer. You need to take people’s feelings into account when making decisions. The challenge is that you need to save up your emotional energy for your home life. Your family deserves to see you at your best, and if you’ve tapped out your emotional energy for the day at work, you may not come home in the right frame of mind to give your family the support, caring and love that they need. This can be very painful for your loved ones, and it’s something I think leaders will struggle with as we continue to learn the value of emotional intelligence as a skill for successful leaders. If public speaking is something that you aren’t good at but need to do as a leader, you can learn to give speeches and exhaust that part of you at work with little/no impact on your family. If you’ve given all of the fucks you have at work, and have none when you come at home at the end of the day, you’re going to be grumpy, short tempered, and unable to empathize with your loved ones.

Is it all doom and gloom?

Of course not. The best way to combat these challenges is to surround yourself with people that care about you. People that you can be honest with. People that will listen to you. But even with these people in your life, your problems won’t magically go away, you need to talk through them. Share your challenges. Don’t feel badly about complaining about your fancy new role, with all of the extra money and perks it brings. Those things don’t matter if you aren’t happy. Success doesn’t only bring joy and happiness, it brings new challenges and hardships, and it’s ok to talk about those things