The school pickup – I was dreading this experience. I knew my daughter would tell me about all the ways it was hard at her new school. People laughed at her, picked on her, she missed her old school, she felt awkward and didn’t know where anything was, on and on… I felt helpless because I didn’t think I could make any of it better for her. So, I called a mom friend of mine who’s also a pediatric sleep coach and family transformational specialist. She’s a dear friend and always creates a safe place for me to vent and she gets it – Joanna’s moved her family four times and had to transfer her daughter into new schools again and again. She’s seen it all as a mom.
What did I really want her to say? “Oh, Lisa, it’ll be all fine in a week or so. Give it time! She’s a first-grader!” Fingers-crossed, I hit the call button. Dude, my friend delivered! She gave me awesome advice about setting expectations, giving me tools and resources to help, enrolling my daughter in a way that celebrated who she is authentically and helping her leverage her unique strengths, and getting to know the parents connected with her new school better so we can bond as families.
Pow! – that’s when I had an epiphany. I said to Joanna,
“This is the same advice I give executives when they’re new in their role or in a new company!”
Within minutes, I connected so many similarities between my first-grader and my executive clients.
Just two weeks ago, I was coaching an executive client who landed their dream job in a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming company. We focused on the critical items for their first 90 days, you know the checklist: building trust, ‘low-hanging fruit’, small wins fast, being clear on establishing personal brand momentum, all the important details. We even talked about my client leveraging their lunchtime to make new alliances, identify the power players, and get a better vibe on their organization’s unstated culture.
Doesn’t that last part sound like a cafeteria context for a new first-grader? They’re uncertain, maybe even scared, and wanting to do things right from Day One. Lunchtime is a great opportunity to make new friends, identify who’s the leader of the group, and learn some of the unwritten rules of the school.
Fast forward as I finished smacking my forehead – how did I miss this? I felt fear for my daughter and hopeless as a mom. I forgot my daughter doesn’t know these tips and strategies even though I coach executives on them every single day.
Have you ever felt that way as a parent? Afraid and hopeless when it comes to your child? Dude, we know the world will probably never cry or feel sad for executives, and yet, it can be just as scary and intimidating to step into a new leadership role. Reading this may be giving you flashbacks to your own time in school or starting as a new leadership position. Whether you’re seeing your child’s current situation in this story or connecting with what I’m sharing as an executive, there’s one question still staring at you.
What do I do next?
Here are four tips to help you integrate quickly, get a jump start on your career management, and feel connected fast when you’re new.
- Smile more. Stress shows up on your face. When you smile, you radiate warmth and openness. It’s simple, powerful, and inviting. Smiles are contagious, too! Every time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you’re perceived to be. No matter your background, culture, or language, a smile breaks down barriers in a second.
- Be an ambassador. An ambassador looks for common ground and believes in creating a great future for both parties involved. Life is better when we identify what we have in common. Making alliances is a great way to fast-track your impact as an executive (and as a first-grader!).
- Project enthusiasm and positivity. We don’t like to be around others who are negative all the time. I love what Keith Rollag said in What to Do When You’re New“Researchers have found that if you say good things about other people, people tend to remember you as having those positive qualities,” he says. “For example, if you tell a new coworker that your previous boss is a friendly, helpful person, they will likely walk away remembering you as somewhat friendly and helpful, too. But if you complain that your previous boss was an egotistical jerk, they may see a few of those qualities in you, too.”
- Eyes open, mouth shut, and take notes. Take your time observing your company’s culture, and try your best to blend in at first. Listen before you speak – this may sound like advice only for a first grade, but dude, I know plenty of executives who would benefit from this advice. You don’t have to prove yourself the first day on the job even though it’s tempting to do so! You have a few weeks to be the observer and take it all in. They hired you for a reason: be the person they hired you to be before you ever started working for them.
It was now my place in the school pickup line. I brought the right energy to the pickup and my daughter was all smiles. I even got to meet some of her new friends. It gave me a chance as we drove home to tap into her innate knowing, her own genius as I call it. By enrolling her back into herself, it allowed me to ask questions and create space for her to come up with her own ideas on solving the problem rather than telling her what to do.
She came up with a really cool idea. We decided that kids who are new to her school could use a handbook. She actually designed the cover yesterday and she said, “Let’s try some of these ideas we’re talking about. And then, let’s write a story about it to help other people.” So, I’m really excited now because we have a project together. I got to simply ask questions and she came up with her own solutions.
Guess what, executives can make their own handbook, too. Grab a Moleskine or some other type of notebook and make that your new handbook. No, don’t rely on a tablet or your phone because that’s connected to more distractions. Make this your little black book of secrets, as it were, where you can keep notes, and write down your observations.
One of the ideas my daughter and I talked about was how to make friends at school. What would you want in a friend? We wrote down 13 different characteristics, like saying good morning and meaning it, making eye contact, showing kindness, love, compassion, honesty, an amazing list. As an executive, you can ask instead: what would you want in a team member or in your company culture? Write down a list of characteristics that make up your desired brand. Identify what you want to see embodied by yourself, by your team members, and by your office culture.
My daughter and I talked about the buddy system. It’s the same approach I recommend for executives when they’re new, especially when having someone on the inside who’s showing you the ropes and making introductions. It’s lonely when you start, and you know what my daughter recommended? Asking people if they would like to join you for lunch. We’re all in our own little worlds, our routines, even first-graders, and we’re not thinking about other people.
What would you ask people who join you for lunch? Ask about their favorite things. Ask about their family. And, here’s the one that hit my like a ton of bricks: ask for help. That’s what I did with Joanna. I asked for help on what to do. We all need help. We all deep inside want to be helpful. My daughter gave me the example of being sad on the playground and how great it would be if a friend asked her, “Can I help you?” Do you know how many executives sit in their corner offices or suites buried in stress and loneliness? Asking how you can help is a gift you give to you both.
The last characteristic she mentioned may be the most powerful. It’s having courage and kindness in your heart. It takes guts to lead a company. It takes courage to make the tough decisions, steer the ship in a new direction, and sometimes, be unpopular. When you add kindness though, dude, that’s the game-changer. Create space for your team members to share their worries and guide them to make their own solutions.
Corner-office champion, you have more in common with a first-grader than you expected. Keep smiling, be an ambassador, project enthusiasm and positivity, carry courage and kindness in your heart, and yes, play well with others at lunchtime. You’ve got this!
If you’re feeling alone and stuck as an executive, let’s talk. I spent the past 20 years coaching Silicon Valley executives. Trust me, I’ve seen it all, fixed it all, and know what it’s like to transition into a new executive role. If you want to talk, let’s connect for a call.