Self-described “fairly submissive” person must exert authority in a new job.
Q: After a number of promotions, I find myself in a role where I have to be quite authoritative. The thing is, inside I am a fairly submissive person. How do I adapt to this with less stress? — Jay, 50, director of strategic planning
A: Combine new skills and authenticity to help you meet the needs of this role.
The first step is to think about the requirements of your position. Being authoritative can have many faces, depending on the situation. Consider the difference between communicating a new corporate vision or confronting personnel issues. Both require a strong presence but will use different skills.
As you break down the situations you face, you can then align the skills you need, rather than taking a dualistic view between the desired “authoritative” presence and the perceived “submissive” reality.
Also keep in mind that there is no single right way to communicate with authority. However, being authentic is essential.
To develop your own style, try thinking about synonyms for “authoritative.” There may be positive ones, such as confident, assured or knowledgeable.
You may also find some biases. If words like domineering, bombastic, or pushy come to mind, you may be holding yourself back.
Note that some of the demeanor you call submissive may be useful for building consensus and helping get people on board with your agenda, so don’t be dismissive of your innate temperament.
Once you have created a self-image that fits, use it to picture yourself in the types of situations that may stress you out.
For example, imagine that you have a meeting coming up with someone who may intimidate you somewhat, and you need to gain support for a particular strategic direction. Decide which skills you need: logic, persuasion, directness, etc.
Then picture yourself succeeding in this meeting. Be very specific. Watch yourself walk into the room, lead the discussion, manage objections, and so forth. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between your imagination and a real event and will absorb the positives.
Reflecting on how you would handle past experiences differently is an excellent learning opportunity, as well. Avoid rumination; use this to imagine a new outcome based on new behaviors.
Success also depends on doing your homework. Especially if you think a situation will be stressful, preparation is key. The same approach won’t be as effective in all settings.
There may also be skills to acquire. For example, if your new role requires an authoritative public speaking presence, invest in training so that you have the objective competencies you need.
Pace yourself. There are limits to how much growth can be accomplished at once. Prioritize and acknowledge your successes as you adapt to this challenging new role.