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How to Achieve a Stress Free Promotion

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The strongest managers and executives are also leaders. People work for and report to a boss; they are truly inspired by a leader who exemplifies vision, commitment, and core values like integrity and honesty. If you are a leader at any level in the organization, you are probably well on your way to a promotion.

The question before you is: will it be a stressful or stress-free promotion? A stressful promotion will leave you struggling with anger, burnout, and depression. Not only is the cost not worth the honor, but you will have difficulty fulfilling your promise and keeping hold of your position. A stress-free promotion is more likely if you understand the sources of stress and how to overcome them. 

The Sources of Stress

Most promotions, but particularly those to the executive suite, come with stress from the moment you are offered the promotion. 

You may suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Imposter syndrome, a version of the Peter Principle that says everyone rises to their level of incompetence and wonder if you have somehow cheated your way to this promotion. 
  • Discomfort with the change in salary and benefits, the executive lifestyle, or your performance compared to others. 
  • Concern over the financial, consumer, legal, or other problems you are expected to solve and the decisions you will be expected to make.
  • Regret as you transition away from the hands-on practice of your profession and move into decision making and strategy, leaving the hands-on work to those who report to you. 
  • Fear of losing part of yourself and your core values.
  • Worry that the “old guard” will stifle your innovation and creativity, putting roadblocks in the way of change and new ideas. 
  • Pressure on yourself to live up to the promotion.
  • Confusion as you leave one set of peers and gain another.
  • Frustration in explaining to others exactly what you do, what rewards you get from it, and the type of support you need now.

Many studies have found that the executive suite’s failure rate for transitions hovers between one-quarter to one-half of all promotions. CEOs turnover has reached record highs every year over the last 10 years, zooming past the 17% mark in 2019. Despite their clear abilities, those leaders succumbed to the triple threat of ingrained politics, an incompatible culture, and resistance to change. In a way, those statistics should give you comfort: if you stumble, you are in a very high-level company. So why not give it a chance?

How to Overcome Stress

In addition to the SMaRT strategies that allow you to recognize the signs of stress, cope with it, build your resilience, and restore your sense of self, you need to take specific actions to increase the likelihood of a stress-free promotion:

  • Set boundaries for yourself. You might find yourself bogged down in activities that you should have left behind—you are a strategist and champion now, not a researcher or implementer. You must rely on your team now to provide you with accurate, timely information, analyze that information, and implement your vision and strategy. If you try to do it all, you will burn out. 
  • Set boundaries for the company. Develop a clear idea of what you want to accomplish—and what projects, processes, and products actually fit into that category. Check every old and new effort against your vision, strategy, and core values. Are they aligning with the direction you want to take? What are the key performance indicators your team must meet? How will you define success?

TIP: The ability to say “no” is important in setting boundaries for both yourself and the company.

  • Give yourself time. Research shows that most people who are promoted or newly hired into a higher position need at least 90 days—and often as much as six months—to make any sort of difference. Rushing yourself is counterproductive. Set up your priorities, delegate, and manage your time to include rest, relaxation, and exercise; personal relationships; and whatever you need to do to shore up your resilience.
  • Build the people who report to you. When a transition to a higher position is successful, according to a McKinsey & Company report, direct reports generate 5 percent more revenue and profit than average. However, if you struggle through the transition, the performance of your team will drop up to 15 percent. Give them opportunities for leadership and growth, and you will build a strong foundation for your own progress. 

TIP: Be careful about letting your biases lead you. Diverse and inclusive teams are proven to be more productive and innovative. Good executives avoid the mistake of championing only the people who remind them of themselves.

  • Communicate. Communication to and from all levels will ensure that you understand the needs of the company and the individuals who report to you and who implement the work. Constant communication ensures that you understand the current culture and whether the changes you champion are truly necessary. Furthermore, your ability to drive change will depend on how well and how clearly you communicate your belief in yourself and what you are doing to each and every person involved. In this respect, emotional intelligence, self-confidence and self-management, focus and concentration, and the ability to engage others are critical.
  • Be cost, risk, and benefit conscious. If you were a change agent in the past, you now have more opportunity to push through change—but you have to be ready for the level of questions that will be asked. Make sure you understand the return on investment and how changes you propose affect the company in the long term. Use numbers and facts to build your case.
  • Speak up. The politics of the executive suite, the speed of change in every industry, the diverse needs of employees all create situations where your voice is critical in determining the next step forward. Your peers expect you to bring your perspective, values, and creativity to the new job—or you will quickly find yourself irrelevant. 

TIP: You carry out your vision and strategy by exercising your influencing and negotiation skills with customers, stakeholders, bosses, and peers, to gain support even before you speak up.

  • Be prepared to adjust. If you keep in contact with your direct reports, stakeholders, and team, you should be able to weather the unexpected: economic shifts, new hires that fail, initiatives that require more resources than planned or fail entirely. Mindfulness strategies will help you keep calm and make course corrections. 
  • Accept support. Collaboration is one of the top 10 soft skills expected of executives—and one of the top six they want to see in others to justify a promotion. But support at work is only one part of the support you need to manage a stress-free promotion to a new role. A coach or mentor will help you develop new skills and feel comfortable with your role’s responsibilities and demands, including hiring, influencing, and mentoring others. A facilitator will help unify your new team, identify problems that might have been festering for years, inspire a shared commitment, and work out the next steps. Support from your family will enable you to keep your emotional balance, alert you to signs of stress or burnout, and maintain good habits for your physical and mental well-being.

Key Takeaways

Promotions are stressful: you are embarking on new goals, with a new team, and with new expectations and obligations. By paying attention to the triggers for your stress, setting boundaries for yourself and your company, building internal and external support, communicating clearly at all levels, and maintaining your well-being, you will be able to enjoy a stress-free promotion.

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