Your new initiatives are running out of puff and requests for resources are being declined. Your colleagues couldn’t give a stuff and the boss has stopped looking your way as you pass the office.
Weeks earlier you were basking in the glow of all the hoopla. People were smiling, shaking your hand, telling you that you’re going to make all the difference. Off you ran, pitching your ideas, philosophies and new models. When you came up for air you could see nothing through the periscope.
Where Am I?
Welcome to C-suite purgatory – the anteroom that many new executives never exit. The ones who do are either very clever or well prepared before they go in.
There are many things a newly-promoted executive should do and none are more important than getting to know your boss. For reasons such as naivety, arrogance and fear we neglect to build a foundational relationship between ourselves and the most important people in our careers.
If you’re elevated to a senior team the chances are that enough of your values and limits align with the person you report to. If they don’t you shouldn’t be in the job – or the organisation for that matter. So don’t be shy. Stick your neck out and get to know them.
Take Them as They Are, Not as You Are
If you’re operating out of our own agenda, you’ll flail around and achieve little of enduring value. You won’t be able to move with any power without first having an understanding of your manager’s values, beliefs and concerns.
The idea of understanding others’ concerns is nothing new. It permeates tomes upon tomes on strategy. Dixit and Nalebuff return to this theme on a number of occasions in the excellent “The Art of Strategy” (2008). They write:
“If you are playing a game, then you have to consider how the other player will be acting and how those decisions will influence your strategy…You need to understand the other person’s perspective. You need to consider what they know, what motivates them, and even how they think about you. George Bernard Shaw’s quip on the golden rule was to not do unto others as you would have them do unto you – their tastes may be different…When you put yourself in others’ shoes, you have to take them as they are, not as you are.”
Play the Game
“But they hired me for a reason. I’m the best at this stuff” you scream in your sound-proof antechamber. Yes, they did, but you’re working in a team. Picture the scrum half who breaks away from the sanctuary of his forwards on a solo run and gets creamed and turned over by the opposition flankers. He has lost the ball and – if it happens regularly – the approval of his coach and team mates. You won’t last long in the Berlin Philharmonic if you try and steal the show from second violin. Likewise, you won’t exit C-suite purgatory until you get to know and understand your boss and make moves that blend in.