Continuing in a series of posts that touch on 10 challenges for you to consider as you embrace a 2012 that is more productive for yourself, as well as for those around you. As I do so, I am borrowing from a book I read last year, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Stories for New Leaders by Michael Watkins.

Read previous challenge articles:
First Challenge – Promote yourself

Second Challenge – Accelerate Your Learning

Third Challenge – Match Strategy to Situation

Fourth Challenge – Secure Early Wins

Fifth Challenge – Negotiate Success

Sixth Challenge – Achieve Alignment

Seventh Challenge - Build Your Team

Eighth Challenge - Create Coalitions


Ninth Challenge – Keep your balance

The responsibilities that come along with being a leader (either formal or by example) in your organization are always difficult to balance, but never more so than during a time of transition. The uncertainty and ambiguity that come along with transition can be crippling. Often times, you don't even know what you don't know. Not only does the transition affect you, it affects everyone around you, including your family. For all these reasons, keeping your balance is a key transition challenge.

Are you focusing on the right things in the right way? Are you maintaining your energy and keeping the proper perspective? Are you getting the support you need – for yourself and those around you?

To help stay focused on the proper areas and to keep a healthy perspective, it is critical to recognize and avoid the following traps.

  1. Riding off in all directions – You can't hope to focus others if you fail to focus yourself. There are an infinite number of things you could do, but only a few that are critical. Focus on the critical.
  2. Undefended boundaries – If you don't establish appropriate boundaries of what you are willing and not willing to do, those around you – bosses, peers, direct reports – won't know what is appropriate or inappropriate to bring to you.
  3. Brittleness – The uncertainty of transition can cause you to over commit to a failing course of action. Know when to cut your losses.
  4. Isolation – As you work through your transition, it is easier than ever to allow yourself to be isolated from the people you most need to help make your transition successful.
  5. Biased judgment – With a transition, it is easy to find yourself in a situation without enough information to make a good decision and to end up relying too much on your own personal biases. Be more careful than ever in making critical decisions.
  6. Work avoidance – With a transition, some decisions take on a new level of importance. Because of our transition, we may have incomplete information. Consciously or unconsciously, this may lead you to avoid making the decision. Instead, take the bull by the horns and tackle the task at hand.
  7. Going over the top – While a little stress is good for us, too much is, well, too much. Know your breaking point and be sure to stay on the healthy side of it.

The keys to avoiding those traps:

1. Adopting success strategies – Use the strategies spelled out in the previous 8 challenges as a template for how to learn, set priorities, create plans, and direct action to build momentum.

2. Enforcing personal disciplines – Knowing what you should be doing is not the same as doing it. Find the discipline to execute.

    • Plan to plan – Set time aside daily/weekly to identify priorities
    • Don't commit too quickly
    • Get some of the "hard stuff" done every day
    • Step back on occasion to regain perspective
    • Be self aware – Take time to reflect on how you are handling things

3. Building your support systems – Surround yourself with as much stability as possible.

As you make your transition, you will have to fight to keep your balance, every single day. Success, or failure, will result from all the small choices you make along the way. Some choices create momentum while others are like death by a thousand cuts. Your day-to-day actions will establish the pattern for all that follows.

Acceleration Checklist as suggested in The First 90 Days (paraphrased in places)

  1. What are your greatest vulnerabilities in your new job? How do you plan to compensate for them?
  2. What personal disciplines do you most need to develop or enhance? How will you do that? What will success look like?
  3. What can you do to gain more control over your local environment?
  4. What are your priorities for strengthening your advice-and-counsel network?

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