About three months ago, I was promoted to COO in my organization. I wasn’t expecting it—a lot of changes happened at once. A large group of people were fired and the next thing I knew I was COO.
I have no real senior leadership experience, but here is the crazy thing: I’m pretty sure I can do this. I’m super organized and I have an exhaustive knowledge of the mechanics of the organization. My problem is that when I try to prioritize on what to tackle first, I get completely overwhelmed. I’m not sure where to start.
I thought about asking my new team, but they seem as mystified as I am about what I’m doing in this role. I really don’t want to reveal my ignorance to them but at the same time I don’t want my boss to lose faith in me. Any ideas would be helpful.
Dear Unexpected Success,
It’s obvious your boss also thinks you can do this—so you should absolutely play hard, and play to win. You have some leadership experience and you will figure out the senior part. You have nothing to lose.
Thomas Leonard, my mentor and a pioneer of the coaching profession, says, “Anything worth doing is worth getting help with.” The first order of business is to get help. The fastest way to bomb out would be for you to try to do too much, too fast, all by yourself. Do you have anyone from your past work life you might call to mentor you? Are there any COOs in your industry you could reach out to for advice? I suggest you hire a very experienced executive coach—someone with whom you can discuss everything you need to work through in total confidentiality. Your organization will probably pay for it. Also, lobby for an assistant to help manage your time and keep you focused. The more support you can get for yourself right now, the better off you will be.
Sit down with your boss and ask them to outline your top three to five priorities. Decide what you can do in what time frame and check it in writing with your boss so there is no misunderstanding. Focus only on your boss’s priorities and on building support for your leadership.
To succeed as a leader you need your team to trust you. Begin by spending what will feel like precious time getting to know each member of your team so that you can understand their strengths, experience, and expertise. The more you can empower them with crystal-clear goals to lead their own teams, the more you will be able to get done. Build trust and connectivity with your team by creating and sharing your Leadership Point of View.
You also need to understand your peers and your unofficial influencers in the organization. Create a relationship map to identify all of the critical players in your organization, and make a concerted effort to get to know them and understand their goals. Build a coalition of support by helping others achieve their goals and leveraging their help to achieve yours.
Once you have some clarity about your priorities, are moving toward your goals, and have started to build your network of support, then you can worry about building your own strategic point of view and influencing as a strategic leader. That day will come after your very high functioning operational machine is built.
You have a rare opportunity to take advantage of an odd situation. If you can keep your wits about you, get the right help, and stay grounded, you will be fine. Better than fine—great!
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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