Why a promotion means you actually have more to learn

When I became president of my company, I thought the times of being in the dark or out-of-touch would miraculously disappear. Despite having a résumé that boasts plenty of experiences and credentials and having worked a stint as our organization’s chief relationship officer, I was bowled over when I assumed my new title and realised just how little I knew.

Sure, I had watched the corporation grow into a thriving business for five years, but when sheltered in my previously comfortable niche, I didn’t recognize the system’s many pitfalls. Our departments, while small, were working toward their own objectives and weren’t tuned in to one another’s missions. Ultimately, as president, I became the one who had to either answer for these disconnections or implement big changes.

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In other words, my learning curve was steep. As I surveyed our systems over my 10-month transition, I realized I had a lot to learn. While the resulting lessons were a bit sobering, they’ve also enlightened me — plus, they’ve helped me help others in transitional situations.

Shut up, listen, and observe

Listening, not talking, is imperative when you take on a different professional role. Being attentive while you shadow people above and below your pay grade or expertise level and taking notes of your observations — on everything from exceptional (and poor) operational styles to preferred meeting methods and venues — will teach you much more than if you constantly run your mouth.

Of course, you can’t always clam up, nor should you. Ask relevant questions without expecting specific answers. What you uncover will help you hold yourself and others accountable, as well as help you take cues on everything from productivity to loyalty. And when the reins pass fully into your hands, you’ll be prepared with a thoughtful and knowledgeable approach.

Get insight into what your people want

It’s not enough to understand your role: You have to understand both the organization and its people. If you fail to understand those around you, then they’ll see you as superficial and undermining. And they’ll resist collaborating with you when you’re faced with new objectives.

I got the lay of the land quickly by holding one-on-one meetings with my team members. I asked them questions like: What do you want to keep; what do you want me to change; and what are you afraid I’ll do? The answers helped me create a successful and impactful path. Still, I had to remember that if I asked those questions, I had to be willing to solve any problems that arose.

Openness has benefited me greatly, especially because it allows others to understand my expectations. They know I guide with happiness, respect, honesty, accountability, and teamwork as core values, and they follow suit.

Follow up on everything

In terms of following up, I’ve never been a fan of “set it and forget it.” If I fail to follow up, I fail everyone. Meeting regularly with team members to ensure they have the development and growth tools they need is vital under normal circumstances. But it’s critical during a transitional period.

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My duties shifted to not only looking for financial success indicators, developing growth strategies, evaluating marketing and sales initiatives, supporting company culture and health concepts, and more, but to doing all of these things while also empowering team members to have positive, goal-oriented experiences.

Look at delegating like coaching

Leading at any level requires delegation, but becoming president forced me to take a big leap into the world of coaching others. Even if I was able to do something, I had to be willing to give up that task to the right people so that I could focus on what was most important: redefining our organizational chart to promote a clearer, more direct structure.

At the same time, I had to continue coaching. I called a company-wide meeting to explain and clarify every team member’s new roles and responsibilities. This not only empowered the team members, but it also fulfilled the business’s vision. Ultimately, a coach’s job is to balance team growth with individual growth while ensuring that tomorrow will be as good as (or better than) today.

Leap into the trenches without looking

Not sure what each team member does? Get your hands dirty: Go on sales calls, man the customer service lines, prepare spreadsheets, expand your horizons, and show everyone you lead by example to understand the day-to-day challenges of those you serve.

For me, this step involved launching into operations, an area that’s not my forte. I attended meetings and observed how the department manages and contributes to the company’s overall function. Slowly, I took over some roles, holding meetings and adhering to processes and procedures. Was it hard? You bet. But nothing worth having will just land in your lap.

Make up your mind, and do something

Indecisive people produce nothing but discouragement and anxiety across the board. When you as a professional have a vision, set a plan and move it forward. If you’ve laid the groundwork and everyone relying on you understands the bigger picture, they’ll be more likely to buy in. It’s tough to align your goals with all the stakeholders’ — board members, employees, clients, co-workers — but decisiveness will help maintain consistency and a sense of trajectory.

Want to improve your chances of experiencing less friction when you set your ideas in motion? Practice candor. Openness has benefited me greatly, especially because it allows others to understand my expectations. They know I guide with happiness, respect, honesty, accountability, and teamwork as core values, and they follow suit.

Want to succeed? Never stop learning, even long after you’ve transitioned to your new position. While your title and role may have changed, you’re still a student of the world, and failure is only a bigger step toward success.

Michael Manning, president at Rocksauce Studios, joined the team to bring her considerable marketing, analytical, and relationship skills to the team. As president she leads the charge on invigorating the company’s loyalty, happiness, and customer engagement from within.