EH

23 Feb 2017

65. STARTING SMALL

Taking your time to climb the career ladder, whether out of choice or necessity, has many advantages over being catapulted to the top.

Words: Jason Ratcliffe

Most novice managers given half a chance would grab a plum job with both hands, but there are risks involved in fast-tracking up the career ladder and advantages to a more gradual ascent.

Whatever the strength and source of your ambition, remember to focus on the value in the learning journey rather than the end destination, because getting there too soon can leave you unprepared and without a safety net.

Although most of us will make slow and steady progress in our careers some people do jump ahead faster than anticipated, whether because their reputation precedes them or because they just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But the early days in any job are tough and it takes strength of character and perseverance to push through, especially in a high-profile and high-pressure environment.

TOUGHENING UP

Faced with such a situation, many a novice manager will feel out of their depth and this is in part down to their shortage of experience and so lack of opportunities to build mental resilience.

You’ll know what your management abilities are, but you may not yet know just how resilient you can be when out of your comfort zone and under extreme pressure. On your learning pathway you’ll have the opportunity to build up a good understanding of your level of resilience, whether that’s through experiencing a broad range of situations and challenges or with the help of more formal tools such as psychometric testing.

That experience will also afford you greater awareness of what you are going into. All eyes will be on you in your new role and there may be those who doubt your credentials, so it’s essential that you’ve done the right level of preparation, have the right expectations and are self-aware.

Know your strengths and weaknesses and research what it is you’re going into – what is the structure of the management and team you will be working with? Will you be able to take people with you into the organisation and who might you take? Do they have the aptitude to help you on your way?

This is important because, although in theory it should be possible to learn faster by being plunged in at the deep end, this depends on you having the aptitude to absorb information quickly and on having the right support around you. Making sure you have that trusted support is essential if you’re to keep your head above water long enough to start getting results.

ON SIDE

Winning the buy in of the people inside and outside the organisation is also likely to be less of a challenge for managers who have grown their careers in the traditional sense. While you won’t have been given the job without the full confidence of the board, you may find it harder to gain the respect of the very people you’re leading if your reputation and credentials don’t precede you. You will therefore need to engage with stakeholders, fans and team members and demonstrate your authority and confidence in the role early on.

Whatever your reputation, it will get you nowhere until you’ve shown what you can do – how you behave on the pitch or in the boardroom and what you say to the media.

SECOND CHANCES

Mistakes are best avoided in any job, especially when you’re still trying to prove yourself, but we’re all human and some mistakes are inevitable and indeed a central part of our development. In smaller clubs or in lower level roles you may have more opportunities to learn from your errors and to get a second and third chance to adapt or try something new. The impact of mistakes or failures in a larger organisation or role, meanwhile, is likely to be more damaging, more visible and to leave deeper scars on your reputation.

Getting your next role, especially for first or second time managers can be a long and difficult process, but having a solid network of contacts and trusted friends around you can help you to climb back on the ladder more quickly, giving you referrals and advising you on how to develop your skillset and plug any gaps in your knowledge.

But strong networks, again, tend to build over time as you make a positive impression on staff, team members, peers and others in the industry. Failing in a senior or high-profile role before you’ve had the chance to grow and strengthen your network can mean you fall without a safety net.

ENJOY THE JOURNEY

Taking smaller steps towards your career goal is usually not so much a conscious strategy as a necessity for managers, but that journey should be enjoyed and valued in making you a stronger leader. It will give you time to experience different scenarios, behaviours, approaches and to learn from the mistakes of others as well as your own.

With fewer resources at your disposal it’s likely you will need to be more hands on, to experience first-hand every part of the organisation, the people involved and to gain a more in-depth understanding of how things work at every level.

It will afford you valuable time to build mental resilience, to develop a tougher skin and a greater sense of priorities and perspective. In working with a wide range of people you will develop communication skills and powers of influence and persuasion, all essential at elite level. You will have the opportunity to try out different methods and discover which work and align best with your personal philosophy and, ultimately, you will discover who you are as a leader and who you want to become.