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Invest in Yourself (Dear, New Ops Leader | Part 5)
Beware of the backslide, and other sage advice from the Op pros.
*Cue Trumpets* This is the Grand Finale of my series of posts dedicated to new Ops Leaders. They all consist of things I wish someone would have told me when I was just getting started. If you’re just joining us now, read Part 1 here.
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I’m really tickled by the responses that I’ve received throughout this series. Thanks so much to those who wrote in with your great questions. Stay tuned at the bottom of this post for a special offer! ❤️
Dear, New Ops Leader,
By now, you’ve done many things — and my guess is, given the elusive scope of your role and the pressure of today’s climate, that things have already gotten difficult.
You may have heard this before, but I want to point out an unfortunate truth:
“Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training" - Anonymous Navy Seal
You might imagine yourself rising like a mythical Phoenix, achieving the unthinkable (and sure, it’s possible!)
But, it’s also possible, that without focus on your own development, you’ll show up like Kate Gosselin on Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test (IYKYK).
(Side note: I highly recommend this show. So many lessons in mindset > physicality, hubris, group dynamics. Tune in now on Hulu! and yes, that’s Scary Spice and Dr. Drew.)
So, today’s post is about investing in yourself. But first, a cautionary tale about sinking to the level of your training — quick story time :)
In one of my first Ops leadership roles, I was put in charge of a planning process for a 300-person organization.
After about 3.5 minutes, the pressure of the moment got to me, and I quickly defaulted to what I knew best at the time: relentless project management.
Going into a spiral. Anyone want anything?
Before I knew it, I had locked myself in a conference room and developed a Master Plan for how this planning process needed to play out for Optimal Success. My plan lived on a 300-row spreadsheet that thoughtfully (and neurotically) called out the discrete tasks that almost everyone in the organization needed to complete.
In short, I went insane.
What followed? Nothing better.
I, then, chased down the leaders in the organization (who were meant to be my peers, btw) for regular updates. I pushed that damn spreadsheet down not only their throats, but the gullets of their directs as well.
Not only did I create a situation where everyone ended up hiding from me — but I completely missed the opportunity to guide the process strategically, connect meaningful dots, find opportunities for acceleration (or cost savings). I missed the point of planning.
It’s a bit of being Heads Down (vs Heads Up), but really, it’s something I call: The Backslide.
Welcome to the Backslide.
I see this frequently with new leaders (and old): if not careful, in moments of pressure, we over-rely on our core competencies.
That’s not always a bad thing — especially since your core competencies are likely creative problem-solving, collaboration, and relationship-building. But it definitely becomes a problem when you over-rotate on functional competencies of yesteryears, or you lean on superpowers that are no longer fit for purpose, like:
The product-focused-founder-turned-CEO who throws product feature ideas at an existential crisis, or even
The Chief of Staff turned COO who defaults to a facilitation role when their leadership is really needed (👋)
In my story above, instead of assuming my strategic position (which is what the org needed most), I reverted to being a tactical task manager.
So, how do you avoid this?
Cultivate self-awareness through coaching — more on this in a moment!
Invest in yourself.
Here is my quick Invest in Yourself List:
If you’re going to level-up in one area, make it your communication skills — Seriously. Let this become a superpower that you cultivate and you’ll find that you multiply your impact. Remember, it never stops! There are different subspecialties here that you can hone:
Communicating for clarity – what’s happening, what’s the cause, where are we headed
Communicating for action – motivating, inspiring
Communicating for influence – persuading, enlisting support
Communicating in times of conflict - mindful, non-violent communication
Take a pulse on your performance and perceived strengths — every 6 months or so, ask for feedback. Make the ask consistent (so people learn to expect it) and easy (just three questions):
In the last [quarter / half], when did you see me at my best? Why?
In the last [quarter / half], when did you see me struggle? Why?
What 1 thing can I do to drive more impact [on X-initiative, or at company]?
Build your tribe — we talked about the value of relationships at other companies (huge for perspective); but these relationships can also be your support system and your link to other advisors:
Keep a log of Hard Things I’m Struggling With — there are likely 2-3 on there that are universal to all startups / companies. These are great topics for peer calls. Don’t limit yourself to other COOs either. Build relationships with CTOs, Product Leaders for even more perspective.
Here is a very standard agenda for these calls that you can start with:
How are things going? Anything new? (publicly available things come out here — new launches, new funding rounds, new leadership — learn about their business / world this way).
I have a thing I’d love your thoughts on… (have you observed / experienced anything similar? do you have any advice? know anyone who is best-in-class at things like this?)
Can I help you in any way? (find opportunities to offer support / follow-through and build the relationship for the long-term)
Get a coach — coaches are NOT one-size-fits-all. You want someone who both has the unique expertise or perspective you need and someone you can see yourself opening up to. I always recommend speaking with 3-4 coaches in the same 2-week window before choosing one. That way, you don’t just land with the first, and you get a real feel for fit.
Ping me, if I can help. I coach and advise a small portfolio of CEOs, COOs and Managers (at companies as small as 15, and as large as 15k). Our focus tends to be on the things I talk about frequently here: navigating leadership team dynamics, managing your mindset… but also on company-building things like: scaling (or right-sizing) orgs, fleshing out your strategy, and more.
✨ I’m going to open up a couple slots on my calendar in August for a few quick hellos — if you would like to explore working together in some capacity, click here to book some time. ✨
Remember, new Ops leader: this is a marathon, not a sprint. You got this. You’re not alone.
I hope you all enjoyed this series as much as I did (impossible, but a girl can dream).
Sending all my <3…
This series is 5 parts, find the other posts here:
Part 1: Dear, New Ops Leader...
Part 2: Pick Your Boulders
Part 3: Don't Lick the Cookie
Part 4: Stay Heads Up, While Heads Down
📣 Two quick things, before signing off (and on to our next series…):
If this series was helpful: it would mean a lot to me if you would share Part 1 (now with all Parts linked) on Linkedin, Threads, Twitter, or with your favorite Ops leader.
Got a question? Just reply here! I’d ❤️ to hear from you.
Thanks for reading! If you know someone ramping into a new ops lead role, share this piece with them (they will thank you!)