Guidance for the Newly Promoted – Part One

You’ve been newly promoted, to CEO or any other role — or you’ve just promoted someone within your organization. What should a newly promoted person do in their first 30 days to ensure their success in their new role?  Welcome to Guidance for the Newly Promoted, Part One.

I interviewed Dr. Philip C. Stine, whose over 40 years of international management experience on six continents, and his reputation for growing powerful leaders, gives him unique perspective to answer this question.

Phil is also a scholar and linguist, and has grown many managers. His seminal article about the Umbrella Manager, titled “Be an Umbrella,” starts with the two-sentence training he received when he first became a manager: “Your job is to be an umbrella. Shelter the people in the field from the garbage coming from above.”

Phil, like many managers, was promoted from the ranks and was suddenly managing his own former peers. He saw his role as creating an environment where people could perform, where they had the tools needed to do their job.

Your people will do the work if you let them.

There’s a parallel with the story of the creation of the Panama Canal. After many failed attempts to build the canal, a new project was undertaken by the United States government, and they spent two years NOT digging the canal — they spent that time building roads, building safe roads and housing, and otherwise creating an environment in which a canal could be dug successfully.

Phil believes that everybody needs and deserves a powerful vision, or reason, for why their work is important. That has to come from management. If you’re a new leader and you aren’t keenly aware of that vision, or if you think that’s not your role — stop. Go get clear on the vision. Without that you are doomed.

Ultimately everybody deserves a job that is meaningful. Yet they cannot create that meaning on their own — they need help. You as a newly promoted CEO or leader have to give it to them. It’s a part of how you serve them.

When the vision is right, you’ll see behavior change — sick time will go down. On the job injuries will go down. Morale will go up.

But, what if you’re not very good at “the vision thing” — how do you get help? Phil did this by holding a deeply philosophical meeting with his people, asking them why their firm existed, and asking them what the long term goals were, or needed to be.

Once your people are clear on the vision, it becomes easy for them to change their behavior. Phil would constantly get requests from people in the field all over the world — the guy in Thailand would be invited to give a workshop in the Philippines — and Phil would always give the same answer:

“If it helps you meet your goals, then go. If it doesn’t help you meet your goals, then you don’t have time to go. If it doesn’t help you meet your goals and you still think you have the time, then we didn’t set your priorities right.”

That answer formula really worked for Phil.

If you’re a CEO or manager and you’re promoting someone else, Phil would urge you to have this conversation:

  • Are you clear how you are serving the company mission?
  • What goals do you have?
  • What resources do you need?
  • Are you clear on who your people are?

Once you’re in charge, you have to sort out what skills your people have, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and be sure to give the right roles and responsibilities to each one, to take advantage of strengths and to take into account their weaknesses.

First Lesson in Accountability

Phil felt that his most crucial, first lesson was to figure out how to come to terms with his new role — being in charge — without being autocratic. He did this by coming up with a mutual understanding of both what each subordinate would do, and what he as the boss would do to support them — this allowed them to be mutually accountable.  (Henry Evans has a very similar message.)

Clear Roles

Once the roles are clear, people might succeed. When roles are not clear, nobody can succeed because nobody can meet unclear expectations. As leader, you have to make the roles and expectations clear.

Conflict

Phil had a guy in Singapore who was irritating half of Southeast Asia. Phil sat down with him to figure out what this guy’s real responsibilities were, and found that there were none — which led to inevitable conflict. Once Phil clarified for all parties what this guy’s responsibilities were (and were NOT) he got a very productive team member.

In your first 30 days, sniff out any sign of negative conflict. Are people nice in meetings and then privately saying what their real feelings were?

What and Why

Phil had a staffer say “it’s hard for me to do my job when I don’t understand why other people are doing what they do.” So Phil started making that part of the agenda at regular meetings, for each person to talk about what they were doing AND WHY, and inviting them to ask for help.

Tasks that are Doable

When people think their tasks cannot be done, they’ll start making excuses and give up on making effort. Phil would break it up and say, “What part of it can we do now?”  That would un-paralyze them and give them hope.

Contingency Plans

Phil’s teams would regularly come up with what-if scenarios for the business, and brainstorm ways to respond. For example, his firm published religious books. He had a couple of cases where a government would suddenly change the way the official language was written, or would suddenly ban certain kinds of religious books.

So in their long term planning they would talk about big hypothetical changes, and make simple back-of-the-envelope plans. This gave them mental flexibility to respond when in fact these things did occur – that people were not paralyzed when things didn’t work as planned. It didn’t take a lot of time, however it was done very regularly. It could be something as simple as holding a meeting and how to respond if the caterer is late. Phil’s people also planned for how to respond in case the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe became more accessible.

Summary for your First 30 Days

  • Be clear on the mission
  • Clarify roles of each person reporting to you
  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of each person reporting to you
  • Make sure your people know each other’s ‘why’
  • Make simple, wide-ranging contingency plans

When he retired, nobody said what a “great manager” Phil was — they wrote him notes saying “Thank-you — you made it possible for me to do my job.”

Read Phil’s article “Be an Umbrella” here.  Listen to the full interview here.

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