Well at least of one of my coaching clients thought so in his initial days post promotion. Because of his previous success, he suddenly got promoted a few rungs up to run a business unit. Was he excited and enthralled? Oh yes. And was he terrified? Sadly, yes too. For him getting promoted was a double-edged sword.

Surprisingly, there isn’t a single person who embarks on a new career with the dream of staying securely on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. The problem, though, is that once you start to climb, you can suddenly realize that you have a fear of heights. Getting promoted is a thrilling yet a terrifying experience for many.

During the coaching conversations, the leader shared how he compared the new role to riding a roller coaster; you are giddy on the way to the top, but once you get there, you start to panic about what is going to come after that slow and steady climb. Unlike the roller coaster, though, he couldn’t raise his hands in the air and scream for help like a giddy 13-year old girl, as this would not deliver the sort of executive presence that is likely to inspire his board and team. He confided, how getting on the top of his business ladder, he often felt like the loneliest person in the world. He had the feeling that there is no-one to turn to for advice. And that’s when I was asked to step in as his executive coach.

Spirit of Curiosity and Inquiry- Climbing the corporate ladder without fear

Star leaders in the business world are the ones who are not afraid to show that they still have something to learn. It’s fine to seek advice from the very people you lead, as long as you don’t do it in a way that makes you look totally clueless.

Ask questions. Probe the people around for information, ideas, and insights. Be inquisitive about every aspect of your business. Ask your people what they think it will take to win. Connect with key stakeholders who can open your eyes to the “who, what, and when” of your job. Be curious about the strategic imperatives. Inquire where the organization is headed. Remember, this spirit of inquiry will not weaken your authority. It will strengthen it.

The fact of the matter is that the people my client was overseeing started to look at him with a whole new level of respect after he went seeking their advice and opinions. He started to express an interest in their work and picking their brains on any ideas that woud help the organization move forward. His team didn’t view this as him not having a clue about anything but as a genuinely caring boss who had their best interests at heart. The coaching leader realized that his new found spirit of curiosity and inquiry was also helping him build his executive presence and leadership brand with the management.

During the coaching conversations, he introspected about his initial few months in charge as a grace period of sorts. Even as he was climbing the management ladder, there were moments on each rung where he probably felt as though he had gone as far as he could, or that a fall was surely about to happen. But post the coaching engagement; it was his ability to question and learn that helped him continue to thrive as a leader.

No-one knows exactly what to expect when they are thrust into a new position and that is perfectly acceptable. If you try to strut around in an effort to show that you are in total control when you don’t really feel that way, you will quickly be seen as a fraud. Be confident, yes, but not to the point where you become that person who loudly proclaims how they can do anything right before they trip over their untied shoelace.

Summary: As a technical leader you can build very successful and reputable management career by imbibing the spirit of curiosity and inquiry. Once you get comfortable with fear and not being the smartest person in the room, you’re on the right path to being a Star leader.

Comments: Have you ever tried using the spirit of inquiry to connect with your team and display your vulnerability with ease? Share your thoughts in the comments section. I love learning from my readers. And please do share this learning.