Helping the promoted settle into their new roles and not back into old ways

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You’ve promoted a great performer and you’re expecting big things. They kicked some great goals in their old role and in their new one you know that you’ll have someone you can depend on.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Why is it that some people fail to fire when promoted? Why is it that when they have a new role with new responsibilities, opportunities – and pay – they revert back to their old tasks? Instead of managing the team, they work as though they are still in it. Perhaps you’ve done this, too.

The comfort factor

Work that we know and are good at is familiar. Familiar feels comfortable. Comfortable feels nice. When your team member is promoted into a new position with a whole new set of responsibilities, they often lose their sense of comfort.

Their ability to handle new tasks is unknown. The unknown is unfamiliar. And unfamiliar means uncomfortable. And the uncomfortable is, well, not comfortable.

We see this problem with great staff who have been in the same role for 10 years but won’t step up. They could do so much more and offer greater value to the company, but for some reason they stay small.

How can leaders help people to expand their comfort zone so they can flourish in new roles?

All about feelings

Most people make decisions about what they will do based around comfort. If you’ve ever used the excuse of ‘I don’t feel like it’ as a reason for not doing something, you are making a decision based on comfort. We all do this at some time or other, and this is what people are experiencing when they either don’t step up, or do work that is below their pay grade.

But people won’t say that they feel uncomfortable with their new tasks. Rather, they say that they are the best person for the old task or that it has to be done quickly.

The beauty of this rationalising is that on the surface it makes sense and is hard to argue with. If the report has to be done by close of play today and there is only one person who knows how to make the deadline, then the solution is obvious. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fix the problem.

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Pay attention

The best way to deal with the feelings of being uncomfortable is to experience the sensations. Pay 100% close attention to them. Sit with the sensations and fully experience them. Find out what being uncomfortable with this task feels like.

Focus all your attention on what is happening in your body. Your mind will scream thoughts about any and everything else to get your attention away from the sensations. But ignore them and return your attention to the body.

You might experience the uncomfortableness as a tension in your stomach, or pressure in your shoulders, or as heat in your body. Avoid terms such as anxiety, nervousness and stress as these are labels that we apply to the sensations – not the sensations themselves.

When you are experiencing the sensations, apply the six don’ts to them:

  • Don’t label them (I’m feeling anxious)
  • Don’t justify them (I’m the best person for the other job)
  • Don’t explain them (I’ve never felt confident when in a new role)
  • Don’t suppress them (feel the fear and do it anyway)
  • Don’t own them (I always feel this way when I have to do this task)
  • Don’t fight it – just let it come up. Just experience the sensations as they happen.

Nothing lasts forever

As you experience the sensations, you will notice that after a while they start to fade. This is a law of nature: nothing lasts forever. At the same time, their level of uncomfortableness will also fade. This means that the tasks won’t feel as uncomfortable as they once did.

The sensations that you experience as uncomfortableness exist inside you. They will remain as part of you until you pay close attention to them and allow them to express  themselves so they can leave your body.

This whole process is very quick. Within a minute, you can completely deactivate the sensations that are causing you to feel uncomfortable about a task, nervous about a presentation or even scared about speaking up against the majority opinion in the meeting. When you pay attention to the sensations in your body you allow yourself to become comfortable with them. And by becoming comfortable, you can start to get on with the job.

Author: Darren Fleming is a speaker, trainer and mentor to senior leaders

More information

Watch Dr Rob Yeung's video on promotion

This article was first published in AB magazine May 2023

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