From the Irish Independent (free subscription required):

Don’t be in such a hurry to climb the executive ladder – getting that big promotion can lead to stress, illness and despair. WILLIE DILLON reports

Conor is a middle manager in a large manufacturing company with a dozen people working under him. It was a promotion that he thought he wanted. He believed the job was well within his capabilities. But when he actually got it, he discovered the reality was very different.

He isn’t the first ambitious employee to fall into that particular trap. Being passed over for promotion can be a sickener. But actually getting the job can sometimes make you even sicker. A study involving some 600 managers from around the world concluded that getting promoted at work – far from being the glorious event many people imagine – can sometimes be extremely stressful. In the worst cases, it can be harder to handle than even divorce or bereavement.

The study suggests that numerous middle and senior managers are in jobs they don’t feel capable of doing. They regard themselves as impostors who are merely pretending. Their biggest fear is that one day, inevitably, they will be found out.

Dublin-based recruitment expert Rowan Manahan agrees that promotion can often be a stressful and traumatic experience. It usually happens because the promoted employee has an unrealistic view of the new job.

“The first thing they think is, great, I don’t have to do the drudge work any more. But instead of doing the boring day-to-day stuff, they suddenly discover that they’re in a minefield of company politics. Firstly, there may be huge resentment from their colleagues who didn’t get the job. They find that they have to deal with rivalries and personal problems within the staff. This woman is going through a divorce, that guy is going through a bereavement. This one here won’t work with that one there. The higher up the ladder you go, the less you’re involved in the operational detail of the job, and the more you’re dealing with people’s lives. You learn very quickly that, as a manager, you plough a very lonely furrow. The people you could previously talk to and bounce ideas off, now you can’t. It would be inappropriate for you to do so. You always used to go and talk to Johnny but he’s now your subordinate. You’re not one of the guys any more. That’s one of the biggest unexpected stress factors. You have the further stress of knowing that Johnny knows you’re all at sea because he knows your body language and he can see that you’re struggling. Senior management don’t know you as well. They don’t know that you’re dying inside.” Central to this problem is the Peter Principle. This is the theory outlined in 1968 by Dr Laurence Peter that all employees in an organisation ultimately rise to their highest level of incompetence. If they’re good at their job, they’re promoted. If they’re not good, they’re left where they are. People rarely go back down the totem pole. More often, they leave to embark on an entirely different career.”

Manahan believes that feeling like an impostor is now “the norm” in many businesses. He says promotion anxiety isn’t confined to particular professions or sectors. It is widespread. “There are a lot of people at those upper echelons who shouldn’t be there and, in their heart of hearts, they know this.”

But the one insight they lack, he says, is that almost everybody else feels the same way. “If you sit down, in vino veritas or otherwise, with a bunch of people who have made it, nearly all of them will tell you candidly, I was sh***ing myself at some stage along the way.”

Confident people, he says, are willing to admit it when they encounter something they don’t know about. They are not afraid to ask questions. And he says that being nervous in a new job is not necessarily a sign that you aren’t fit for it. “A degree of collywobbles in the stomach is normal in almost any stressful circumstance. If you’re getting up to make a speech, or to do a big presentation, if you don’t have that little flutter, I would say there’s something wrong.”

By the same logic, feeling like an impostor might actually be a good sign, Mr Manahan argues. It could just be a sign that you recognise your own weaknesses. The secret, he says, is to identify where your abilities lie – and your limits. “Know your strengths. It’s such a jaded old cliche, but that doesn’t make it untrue. When you play to your strengths, life is much easier.”

More of Manahan’s thoughts on ‘Boss-Think’ here.

Full article here