Mike Johnson – Speaker of the House
Almost no one expected Mike Johnson to become Speaker of the House at this point – including Johnson himself. Indeed, he was the Republican’s fourth choice to replace Kevin McCarthy, following Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan and Tom Emmer. His nomination and election happened so fast that his wife, Kelly, couldn’t even get from Louisiana to Washington D.C. to witness his swearing in. Hard to imagine a more sudden, surprise, and consequential promotion in a more challenging and complex situation.
Accepting all that, the question is what Johnson (or others facing sudden, surprise promotions) must do to make the best of their situation. The keys are:
Understand and accept the realities of the situation you’re in – good and bad.
Understand and accept the current realities of your strengths and gaps.
Leverage your strengths while getting help to bridge your gaps.
Understand and accept the realities of the situation you’re in
Almost by definition, if you’re getting a sudden, surprise promotion, something did not play out the way it was supposed to play out. Expect the situation to be challenging and complex.
In Johnson’s case, he has to deal with a razor-thin majority in the House, a set of colleagues so divided that it took them three weeks to agree on any Speaker, the opposition party in control of the Senate and White House, a government funded for the next four weeks only, and wars in the Ukraine and Israel – just for starters. He can’t change any of those over the near-term.
In your case, run through the six Cs to understand the current realities of your Customers, Collaborators, Capabilities, Culture, Competition, and Conditions. Understand:
Which customers and prospects need the most attention right now.
Which collaborators can best help you and which need your help most right now.
Which of your organization’s capabilities are in good shape and can help offset the capabilities that are lagging.
The core of your culture as it is right now and its strengths in terms of integrity, respect as well as innovation, accountability, collaboration or customer-centricity.
Which of your competitors pose the greatest immediate threats.
Which social/ cultural/ demographic, political/ government/ regulatory, economic /technological, market, health, climate conditions pose the greatest immediate threats.
Understand and accept the realities of your strengths and gaps
Executive recruiters’ ideal candidates for almost any job have succeeded in the identical jobs, in the identical functions, with the identical challenges, in the identical industries, and want to do those jobs in the geographies in which the jobs are located and already have relationships with all the key stakeholders. Net, they have the strengths, motivation and fit required to succeed.
Ideally, strengths are rooted in innate talent and built over time with learned knowledge, practiced skills, hard-won experience, and, in some cases, apprenticed craft-level caring and sensibilities.
Mike Johnson has not done this job in any function. He has not faced these challenges and has not established the relationships required for his success. He may have the innate talent. He may have learned the knowledge he needs. But he has not had a chance to practice the skills or gain the experience required.
In your case, understand your own talent, knowledge, skill, experience and craft strengths and gaps.
Leverage your strengths while getting help to bridge your gaps
Johnson’s first speech to the House was strong. He appeared confident without being too confident. He acknowledged and appreciated others. He connected with people on a personal basis. He laid out the challenges and his approach to leadership. Johnson has real strengths. He wouldn’t not have been put in the role if he did not.
He has to lead. He has to make sure he doesn’t get captured by the wrong “helpers.” At the same time, he needs help. He needs others to teach him how the House works and how is role works. He needs others to help him practice the skills he needs. He needs others to put safety nets under him as he makes the inevitable mistakes he will on the way to gaining his hard-won experience.
The same holds for you. Do lead. Do leverage your existing strengths. And, at the same time, know that it is a sign of confidence, not weakness, to ask for help – especially in the early days following a sudden, surprise promotion.
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