When You Reach the End of Your Winning Formula
Those of us who are high achievers are used to being successful. Yes, we work hard; we are under stress; but the bottom line is that we usually achieve what we want to achieve. Over the years we have developed a “winning formula”: a strategy for being successful that has worked most of our lives. Our winning formula is that way we do things. It’s been the key to our success.
So what happens when you get promoted, or change jobs, or start a new project and you realize that the same formula you have used for years no longer brings the same instant success? What happens when you realize that you have come to “the end of your winning formula?”
It can be quite a surprise and it usually upsets our ego. For example, there’s the corporate Vice President who is promoted to Senior Vice President of a business unit. His or her key to climbing the corporate ladder had been outstanding technical knowledge. He or she was the best in their field. Suddenly, in the new job, they can’t keep up with the volume of work, the complexity of issues, the demands of several different technical issues. They are overwhelmed, and start to wonder if they are up to the challenge. Self-doubt creeps in and stress distracts. Now they are just trying to survive.
The solution to the stress of this type of career transition is to realize that every winning formula, no matter how effective, comes to an end. Each winning formula works for certain career circumstances. But when you are growing quickly, your circumstances sometimes change faster than you do.
Therefore, if you plan to be successful for the long run, you will have to be prepared to create new winning formulas to match each new promotion, project or career you choose. This requires a few things from you: mostly the ability to manage your own ego and insecurities. Also, the ability to learn new skills fast.
So when you notice that you are not “walking on water” in the same way you did earlier in your career, here are some useful tips:
- Be prepared to be a beginner again.
We all enjoy the ego boost of feeling like an expert. However, when we go to a new level in our career, becoming an executive, stepping up to senior level, being a CEO, we have to recreate who we are. We are now beginners: learning new skills, practicing new behaviors and making mistakes. Can you feel secure in who you are as a person while you “renovate” your career skills?
- Identify the exact skills you need to be successful at the new level.
Where exactly does your old winning formula fall short? For example, at the senior executive levels the key to success is no longer technical knowledge, the authority you have, or your personal excellent performance. At senior levels, success depends more on influencing skills, team building, the power of your network, the skill of leveraging and your ability to use power effectively. Identify which areas you need to develop and how you can improve your skills while also presenting as a strong leader.
- Let go of your old identity.
Just as we had a winning formula that helped us be successful, we had a certain “identity” as a Marketing Director, an Accounting Manager, or a Systems Vice President! In order to grow to the next level of President, CEO or Senior Vice President, we will have to shed the old identity along with its comforts, its familiarity and its behaviors. This can feel insecure. We have to know how to manage insecurity as we shed the old identity even before the new identity is constructed.
- Feel the fear.
I speak from personal experience since I recently noticed that I came to the end of my own winning formula. I realized that for a long time, I had not even wanted to know how afraid I was of really stepping up to my own next level. In spite of my outward success, I realized that I was actually afraid to “fully participate” in my own life and I was not living up to my full potential. I had to actually experience my own fear before I could move on. What I’ve learned is that we have to acknowledge our humanness, our fear, even what we consider our own cowardice, before we can truly move forward. It is an act of self-acceptance that actually builds our confidence and prepares us to be bigger people for the new level. I felt all the unattractive feelings: my fear, my helpless feelings, my inadequacy. And here is the gift: After actually feeling all of that, you realize that fear is not the totality of who you are. You are larger than any inadequate feeling. That larger you is what takes over and allows you to be successful at the next level. That larger you then creates a new winning formula! And success continues…
For more on this topic, see my book The Influence Puzzle.