Congratulations! You finally vaulted into the leadership role you’ve been craving from afar. You weren’t even sure how you would get there, but with your steady, determined grit, you made it happen. Now that you’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool, how do you tread water and gracefully swim forward while making it look easy? Are you overwhelmed yet?

overwhelmMany of my clients find themselves in this situation. They describe it as drinking from a firehose. Overwhelm commonly occurs when you’ve accepted a position in a new organization. There’s additional stress because you are simultaneously learning about the role, the people, and the organization. That’s a lot to take in.

Eradicating Overwhelm

Instead of envisioning the firehose, I encourage my clients to imagine a sponge. Although a sponge can get saturated quickly, it also retains massive amounts of its surroundings. That’s your job in the first months of your new position. Observe, ask questions to understand, be curious, and develop relationships.

There’s no doubt that other things will come up in your day-to-day activities that will tug at your priorities. So while you’re trying to observe and take in as much information about your new culture as possible, you’ll undoubtedly be putting out a few fires as well. Never mind any strategic plans you wanted to start implementing. Thus overwhelm enters the room. What can you do?

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

If you are motivated by achievement and success, you will probably also be eager to show results in your new role. That’s not a bad thing, but it may be unrealistic. Give yourself some time.

In ‘Successful Transitioning to New Leadership Roles’, by McKinsey, they offer: 

“If you type “executive transitions” into Amazon, you will find a long list of books offering 90- and 100-day plans for success. These works say that you have a limited period to achieve full productivity as a leader and that if you don’t make it in time, you are doomed. The evidence doesn’t support these claims: 92 percent of external and 72 percent of internal hires take far more than 90 days to reach full productivity. Sixty-two percent of external and 25 percent of internal hires admit that it took them at least six months to have real impact.”

Be realistic about what you want to achieve in your first three months. Developing relationships and understanding culture is essential and takes time too. As the McKinsey article suggests, to eradicate your overwhelm you should also quickly assess the five areas of business/function, culture, team, yourself, and your stakeholders. Then determine what actions need to be taken in each area short term. In this way, you can work on relationships and results in tandem.

Build Relationships

active listeningAs a new leader, your relationships will be an essential tool in your toolbox. And as you can imagine, that’s a toolbox you’ll be using for years to come, so treat it accordingly. If others haven’t scheduled meetings with you yet, then set them up yourself. They hired you as a leader, and they won’t expect you to sit back and wait for things to happen. They hope you take proactive action.

In the Harvard Business Review article, ‘Starting a New Job–Remotely,’ they suggest you not only meet for frequent short check-ins with your colleagues but that you also assemble a mentoring team. Even though you are the leader, you may benefit from mentoring by your team members. Who better to learn from but from those that are working in the trenches and doing the work?

Set Your Boundaries

No matter what level of the organization, you are the one that needs to set your boundaries for what you will and won’t do. In order to eradicate your overwhelm, this is essential. Do you have an open-door policy? How do you want your direct reports to reach out to you when they need your guidance? Are you available 24/7?

Regardless of the role you play, you teach people how to interact with you and treat you. You do this through your reactions, communications, and tolerations.

Consider a vendor who was rescheduling our appointments with increasing frequency. I don’t mind adjusting my schedule as long as I have enough notice. I realize things happen and with COVID, people might have loved ones to care for or children to homeschool, etc. Their plans change. However, this soon turned into last-minute changes when I’d already left the house for our socially distanced and masked meeting. The culmination occurred when I was waiting outside in the cold for 15 minutes only to find out they needed to reschedule yet again. This common excuse had become a pattern and one that I could no longer tolerate. I ended the relationship.

By accepting the behavior of last-minute changes, I sent the message that this was ok for me. It was affecting my work and my clients, as well. I had to change my schedule and reschedule clients at times. As you can see, there is a trickle-down effect.

Setting firm boundaries for yourself will reap strong results. Weak boundaries will yield weak, unclear, and ineffective results.


Lynn Zettler is an Executive and Leadership Coach specializing in helping to create amazing leaders with excellent communication skills, exemplary accountability cultures, and impactful strategic plans.

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