The Pretender, Part II

For those of you who read Part 1 of this series, here’s hoping you’ve forgiven me for taking subtle shots at Dirty Dancing, mullets, and Democrats. But in my own defense, I’m an equal opportunity antagonist, so you can be sure to see future digs at Footloose, the GOP, and whatever hairstyle Curt Gowdy has adopted for the day. If you didn’t read Part 1, quit reading this part & high-tail your ass back to FOT and start from the beginning like a normal person.

But let’s not bury the lead with witty satire. You’re a new leader, remember? You now exist in a situation where your biggest fear is being the embodiment of the Peter Principle. Fact is, you’re vulnerable right now. As such, there are still things of which to be aware:

  1. Be Careful With New Friends: Especially in Human Resources, as a senior leader you need to be wary of those individuals a little too eager to be your new best friend. Better to face an adversary attacking you than be fooled by the “friend” hugging you. You’ll have no trouble finding hundreds of quotes describing this situation, but in HR it’s even more complicated – if your new buddy immediately begins to “inform you” about the problems (and people) to address first, chances are you have a Judas in your midst, and you’ve opened up the channel for informal tattle sessions. You want to be empathetic, but you’re also not the school principal.
  • Slow Your Roll: Pick and choose, prioritize, and don’t over-promise. When I assumed my new role with Sage, one of the things I received was a list of key objectives for 2019. I counted 20 different objectives, and it was already mid-August. A number of these were accented with “we’ve been waiting for you to get started!”, so party on Wayne! If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority, right? Make the distinction between “must have” and “nice to have” and you’ll find your list shrinking considerably. Doing a few things exceptionally well is your goal – not doing everything mediocre. As much as we want to show we were the right choice for the job, resist the urge to be over-committed.
  • Find a true confidant: Remember, it won’t necessarily be the person who offers you the inside scoop on everyone (see #1); that person likely has an angle. Who in your midst has nothing to gain, has a wealth of internal knowledge, almost certainly has tenure, and has a generally positive and forward-looking attitude? That’s your buddy. It’s also a major reason to…
  • Bring One of Your Own: The last two senior roles I assumed came with the pre-qualified makings of my own Dream Team (the 1992 version, not that garbage 2004 group). They know you, know your style, obviously like your style and can be an internal advocate while you’re still getting your bearings. That doesn’t make them better than the people you inherit, but it sure as hell helps you sleep better at night.
  • Forgive Yourself: Let’s get the suspense over with, shall we? You’re going to make mistakes (plural.) That does not validate concerns you might have (or you perceive that others might have) regarding your ability to do the job. Own them, but don’t let mistakes create a cautious driver – you still need to have the confidence to step on the gas. Being indecisive or unable to react, even with incomplete information, is unacceptable. BE BOLD.

Another freebie – who might be a mentor or supervisor from your past who can be safe harbor when you need to vent, doubt yourself, or admit you’re in over your head? Get ‘em on speed-dial, Pancho, there’s no shame in being human.

25 years after accidentally landing in Human Resources, and still miles to go before I sleep. I have worked the wild and changing spectrum of the healthcare segment as a recruiter, generalist, business partner and team leader. Public, private, PE-backed, start-up ventures and merging entities – I’ve worked with them all, As an opinion leader in the Talent Acquisition community, my blog, “HR Hardball” has become one of the most visible and popular sites for transparent discussion on the challenges facing HR professionals. I’m also a featured contributor for Fistful of Talent, co-author of “What’s Next in Human Resources” and now a contributor to the good folks with the HR Exchange Network.

The Pretender, Part 1



If you get things that you desire, there may be unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. Another way to say that, “Be careful what you wish for,” but Google reminded me that’s also the name of a cheesy Nick Jonas flick (redundant, I know.) Whatevs, the spirit of the comment is the same – anyone striving for advancement in their professional life is actively trying to get to the promised land.

But what happens when you get there?

I know many of us have gone through this experience; you’ve mastered your current position and you begin looking intrinsically and saying “ok, NEXT.” If you’re being honest with yourself, that’s an important moment – you’re either ready for “different” or “more,” and the more you avoid either, the less of an asset you become in your current role. So, you begin taking those unsolicited calls from recruiters, update the resume, pay for a couple months of The Ladders or JobLeads, and add a snazzy new photo for your LinkedIn profile. It’s time for Baby to get out of the corner, tell Jerry Orbach adios and off you go having the time of your life.

Then three months later you’re the girlfriend of a mullet-wearing dance instructor, ironing his skinny jeans and voting Democrat.

I kid, I kid, lighten up Francis.

Yes, we want a new challenge…or a new title…or responsibility, money, respect, development, upside, or some other token of advancement. But with great power also comes great expectations that you know what the hell you’re doing.

Then one day you get your shot – you get the validation, the scope, and most importantly you have a new charter; you are now leader. With new people to lead. And a new boss. And possibly a new industry segment, new company, new culture, and let’s throw in a new commute, too – it’s not the same is the point I’m making. And then maybe you have that thought – “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!”

Now what? Well, funny you should ask. I’ve been through this experience a few times over my 100 years in the business and can share a few revelations that have served me well when thrown in the deep end:

1-Embrace the Fear – If you’re one of those tremendously self-confident people who never blink when you’re thrown into the fire, please move along with my sincerest admiration. Go ahead, I’ll wait……………………………………………………………….are they gone?   Okay, for us non-cyborgs there are plenty of occasions to be anxious, fearful, or downright scared. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, only if it prohibits you from taking a risk, making a mistake, or coming to a decision. 

I remember clearly as a young HR professional when I witnessed the most Senior HR leaders become attached to the chickenshit button. Instead of making a decision that may be different, cause conflict, or (God forbid) be wrong, it becomes much easier to play it safe. Be a little scared – fear means energy, USE it, don’t revert to passivity.

2–Be Honest – You know the phrase, “Fake it until you make it?” No disrespect to Amy Cuddy, but while I don’t totally discount the value of confidence, don’t get over your ski tips, Lane Meyer. Expect to be tested and questioned, even by those lower on the org chart as they examine if you’re the real deal. When you fall into the trap of trying to prove yourself, you start stretching the truth – and when you do that, and you’re caught in a lie….

I remember in one of my first professional gigs a new leader was brought in and she was taking no prisoners; knew everything, was always right, and made a point of being called “Doctor.” What do you think we did? We researched her background and found her PhD was obtained from a degree mill that wasn’t even accredited. May as well ask for the check at that point, you’re done. Be yourself and don’t pander.

3–Big Moments Come Early – Almost unfair, right? You’re still in the honeymoon phase trying to assimilate and you may find yourself in a critical situation that impacts the rest of your tenure. The last two leadership roles I’ve assumed have both featured this scenario – a group meeting where your peers and subordinates are present, when one of your direct reports is obviously & vocally minimizing/challenging/contradicting you amid the discussion. It officially got to the point that others in the room are noticeably awkward as to how to react.

I won’t write about how I handled these for the sake of those involved, but if you want to find me on LinkedIn, I’ll let you know what I did, for better or worse. The point is, be prepared for this, especially if you’ve come from the “outside.”

Remember you may be in the chair somebody else wanted. Of all the things I’ve faced when taking over a new leadership role, this is far and away the biggest learning experience and the biggest litmus test of your leadership style. And people are watching.

25 years after accidentally landing in Human Resources, and still miles to go before I sleep. I have worked the wild and changing spectrum of the healthcare segment as a recruiter, generalist, business partner and team leader. Public, private, PE-backed, start-up ventures and merging entities – I’ve worked with them all, As an opinion leader in the Talent Acquisition community, my blog, “HR Hardball” has become one of the most visible and popular sites for transparent discussion on the challenges facing HR professionals. I’m also a featured contributor for Fistful of Talent, co-author of “What’s Next in Human Resources” and now a contributor to the good folks with the HR Exchange Network.