Nervous Knots for a New Manager – It’s All Good

In a post published today on his LinkedIn blog, Jack Welch wrote about feeling scared when you get promoted into your first managerial job. Unless you are in a job that is truly life and death – firefighter, soldier – I doubt that what you are feeling is fear.  At the same time, I have no doubt that whatever you are feeling is good for you.

I compare the feeling, which usually includes some sort of butterflies in the stomach and significantly heightened sense of sound, smell and touch, to the pre-game jitters most competitive athletes feel before a match or even the sweat down the back and dry mouth that show up when it’s time for a marriage proposal.

Why do these feelings and physical symptoms occur?  Two reasons:

  • We are highly invested in the outcome.  We want to win the game, or have our partner say “yes” or succeed at the new managerial job.  If there was no investment, there would be no physiological preparation by the body for the event about to happen.
  • The outcome is unknown.  You might not win the game.  There might not be a wedding in your future.  Your first project as manager might go sideways.

So the feelings are natural if you care about your job and the company you work for and the people you work with and the customers you serve.

As a new manager, the trick is to copy what the best athletes and marriage proposers and managers before you have done – focus on the process.  The athlete leans on their practice sessions, their game plan and trust in their team mates that they have your back and are working toward the same goal.  The person about to propose has already talked to the parents, picked a good time and place and has thought carefully about the words they want to say.  Once a minute they check to make sure that they have the ring in their pocket.

For you as a manager, focus on the stuff that got you promoted in the first place.  Trust your team, keep your office door and your mind open and be the guy who makes sure his team has everything they need to succeed.  Even though you are new, your team has been there done that, and will carry you through the first couple of projects happily if you make sure they have the tools, tech, time and food to succeed.  And after they do succeed, despite your newness, make sure they get one more thing – credit for the success with your boss and sincere praise from you in public in front of their peers.

And then even as you get things figured out and the butterflies disappear because the outcome is more certain in your mind, continue to use this model for the rest of your career.  Again from Jack’s piece:

Everyone knows that too much confidence can lead to arrogance and a kind of “that’s how we do it around here” inertia. The flip side is an insatiable hunger for new ideas and better ways to do things—a hunger that makes you fight like hell to win.

Keep fighting.


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