New Leadership Roles Feel Overwhelming, but You Can Overcome

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

I often talk with leaders that are new in their roles. They aren’t new leaders, but for some reason or another, they are in a new role, due to a reorganization, promotion, or job change. When I ask how it’s going, I usually hear answers like “busy” or “good.” Occasionally, I get a very brave answer: “I’m overwhelmed.”

I appreciate this answer because it’s completely normal to feel this way in a new leadership role, yet few are vulnerable enough to talk about it. In this article, I’m going to explain why it’s normal how to get beyond this feeling.

Normal

Feeling overwhelmed is normal. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. It doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified. It doesn’t mean you are a bad leader. It just means you are in a new role. To illustrate, let’s make a few comparisons between your new role and the leadership role you just left. Even though we don’t know each other, I’ll bet the comparison below is at least 80% accurate for you:

New leadership role transitions are hard. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed. Don’t let the impostor syndrome take up any space in your head.

There is a difference between feeling overwhelmed and acting overwhelmed. It’s important to pull yourself together for the sake of your team. I don’t mean “fake it ’til you make it,” but instead, muster confidence. This takes emotional intelligence and optimism. This may be hard for some, but since you are a leader, I know you can pull it off.

Now that we’ve normalized the feeling of being overwhelmed, let’s discuss what it takes to get to the other side. This is temporary. You will get past it.

No longer overwhelmed

The first and foremost thing you need is time. How much time? After about 90 days you start to feel your footing and can make your way around. After six months you start to feel a new normal settling in. At the one-year mark, you feel like you are hitting your stride and are making tangible strategic progress.

You need time, but you also need to make good use of your time. Here are a few ideas to make the most of your time and accelerate your departure from “Overwhelmedville.”

The first 90 days are all about discovery. Be curious as you begin to understand your new team, customers, and stakeholders. Be aware that new leadership roles usually mean old problems. After all, they hired you for a reason. Don’t be surprised if you experience a tight interval on your “Mean Time Between Horrifying Discoveries.” Once this interval expands, you can have confidence that a new skeleton won’t jump out of every closet you open. That’s a good feeling. Expect to reach this point approximately 90-days in.

From 90–180 days, you should be able to establish some routines. You are no longer meeting a lot of people for the first time. You can develop the rhythms of your new role. Set up recurring meetings. Gather the data you need to manage appropriately. Deepen your relationships. You are no longer trying to remember names, but you are trying to build relationships and establish trust.

From 180–365 days, you can start to think strategically. Prior to this point, I believe it’s just too hard. When you start a role, all you have is your own past experience. That’s not enough to form a strategy. You need to learn the context and nuance of this new role and the new people surrounding you. Some of your past experience is relevant and some of it isn’t. Some of your team’s current practices are good and some of them aren’t. It takes a while to figure it out.

365-days into a new role should feel a whole lot different than day 1 or 39. If you do it right, you should have things under control. You should have established relationships that are functioning well. You should have a clearer vision of the future and line-of-sight to the next steps necessary to advance your cause.

And that means you are no longer overwhelmed. Congratulations. I knew you could get there.

Read this article on my blog site or listen to it on my podcast🎙️

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Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.

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Zach Hughes

Zach Hughes

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.

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