Failure Is An Option: And There are Ways to Avoid It
Posted October 31, 2016

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“40%-50% of executives fail, quit, or are pushed out during the first 18 months in a new position.”

My friend and best-selling Amazon author, Lee Eisenstaedt, opens his book Being a Leader With Courage with this eye-popping statistic, and throughout the book provides great insight into why this happens and gives direction for how to avoid it.

When he shared the stat again at a workshop he recently led, it struck me with greater impact. Several of my clients are in new roles, and are consciously and aggressively working to not have this be their fate. They are not leaving it up to chance, and they want to guarantee success in their roles.

So many leaders, however, don’t seek outside support at this critical juncture in their careers.

What is it about leaders who seek executive coaching?

I’ve identified three characteristics that set apart individuals wanting to be successful.

1. Have the Confidence You Can Be Even Better

If you’ve moved up the ladder you already have success. Even though you have ongoing fears of failure, the imposter syndrome, and other stories your Gremlin tells you, you have had success. You, as a successful leader, are also self-aware and confident enough to know you can do more. But it is scary.

I’m frequently asked what I consider the most important characteristic of leadership, and unhesitatingly I say confidence. It’s not the arrogant confidence of “I deserve this” but the ability to look at what has brought you to this point and feeling good about it. What are my strengths? What do I bring to the table? What is the value I have created? Now that things have changed, how can I deliver value in the context of my new role?

When you look at yourself with humble confidence, you also realize you can be even more effective.  You know there are blind spots. You have seen characteristics of others you would like to emulate. You realize there’s a reason you haven’t developed all the skills you’d like, and now is the time to start.

This is confident, objective self-awareness that doesn’t make you feel weak, but presents the opportunity to be even better. Be honest and confident.
2. See Life as Being More Than Just Your Job

Your life is already complicated.  As you move into a new role things will be different. Admit it. Embrace it. Work on it. You cannot just gloss over it as an entitlement or a linear progression.

You’re moving into a big new job and you have a big title with lots of responsibilities. And, you are a parent, someone’s child, a friend, partner, sibling, an aunt or uncle. With these personal roles, come the realities of life: aging parents, difficult children, financial challenges, breakups, illness, transitions, and more.

Along with the rush of moving into a big new job, you are also shaking up virtually every other aspect of your life. All of those relationships and challenges you are dealing with already are going to be exacerbated by a different work rhythm, new stressors, and different demands on your time and energy.

You cannot be as effective as you like if you ignore or minimize these external factors and fail to understand how they affect your ability to be successful at work. Failing to fully be aware of this leads to disruption across all dimensions of your life and an increased likelihood of failure.

Successful leaders hit this head on knowing all aspects of their life are being impacted and need to be addressed.
3. Know You Can’t Do It Alone

It would be great if just becoming aware of how change will impact you would be enough to help you succeed. “I can suck it up.” “It will all fall into place over time.” “I can ignore what’s happening at home because they knew this was what we agreed to.” Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that it won’t work out if it’s just ignored and there isn’t a strategy to be successful.

It’s also nearly impossible to do it alone.

Family members and close friends with whom you can be very honest about what’s going on is a necessary part of your support system. Unfortunately, they are all connected to the outcome in some way. The decisions you do or don’t make will impact them in some way. The advice and support they offer is not entirely objective. After all, they want you to be successful, but also don’t want to hurt your feelings, are carrying memories of a past struggle, or are afraid of what might lie ahead.

Who can you be 100% honest with about your fears or struggles with staying on track? To whom can you admit to you need help with a certain skill set? (You’re the boss, shouldn’t you know that?) Where can you learn the techniques to adjust your leadership style in order to have the impact you know you want to have? Where can you openly grapple with the impact a difficult personal situation is having on your job performance?

These questions are not rhetorical. They are real-life challenges clients bring to a coaching engagement where fears are admitted, problems are solved, and strategies to move forward are developed and executed.

Having things not work out in the first 18 months is no fun for anyone. Having confidence in your ability to grow, acknowledging the way all aspects of your life interact, and knowing an independent third party can help move things in a positive direction more quickly than you can on your own will go a long way to helping you achieve happiness, success, and fulfillment.

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