5 Mistakes That Almost Sank Me
What I'm about to share with you is very painful for me, but I'm doing it so others can avoid making the same mistakes I did.
I made 5 mistakes that almost sank me when I was transferred from NY to London to start a new business for my employer.
After I tell you about these, I'll also share the three things I did to recover and my five takeaways from the whole experience. So please pay close attention – I don’t want to have to revisit this again!
Starting with the mistakes…
Neglected key internal stakeholders
I was off to a great start with the corporate clients and bankers, who were my main stakeholders. But, I neglected to cultivate the Sales and Trading side, which worked with the investors and had a very different set of needs and expectations from the Bankers.
I naively thought I had Sales & Trading covered because my boss and colleagues had great relationships, but it turns out that I needed to have my own.
Put too many eggs in one basket
My near-term mission was to secure an “early win”. The first opportunity that came along was a complicated deal with a high degree of difficulty.
I wanted to believe it would work, and became so invested in it that when it ultimately fell through, I had used up loads of credibility chips with my boss as well as the trading desk. And they weren't big fans to begin with.
Worse yet, I had done the same on the hiring side. A key part of my staffing strategy centered around hiring a top name in the business who was expensive but great. At the 11th hour, he got cold feet and didn't join us, leaving us with a more junior and primarily internal team.
Not only was that another “black eye” from my boss’ perspective, I also ended up having to cover that region myself.
By this time, I was feeling a lot of pressure, and my way of dealing with it was a combination of being stoic and tough on the outside and engaging in some serious negative self-talk on the inside.
This resulted in my next two mistakes.
Because I felt under attack and at the same time determined to put things right, I became very defensive without realizing it.
I felt I didn't have anyone to confide in and tried to do it all on my own. Rather than reach out to others and get help, I became isolated and even paranoid.
Kept redoubling my efforts
I've always been a bit of a Marine, thinking that when it going gets tough, the tough get going.
I kept redoubling my efforts, which I was able to do because I have a lot of stamina and perseverance and that's what allowed me to spread myself way too thin. As they say, our strengths taken to extremes become our derailers.
I was surviving on very little sleep, no exercise and loads of caffeine, which did not make for clear thinking and good decision-making.
And this led to…
Alienated my boss and colleagues
Because I was working so hard, I was getting feedback that I was too serious and needed to lighten up.
At the end of the year, I decided it was time to show I knew how to have fun, so I threw a big Christmas party for the team. Unfortunately, I didn't stop at inviting just my team. I ended up inviting the whole department, including the people that reported to my peers.
I did get my boss’ permission, and he was initially okay with it. But when my peers found out, they were pretty upset – who was I to invite their teams without consulting them?
What made it worse was that when everybody showed up at my house, it was pretty obvious that it was indeed the “May show”. I even forgot to ask my boss to make some remarks, and by the end I had alienated him too.
Ironically, I was known for having great people skills and getting along with everyone. Yet here I was, alone and unloved.
As it turns out, I was trying so hard that I dug myself into a great big hole.
How I dug myself out of the hole
- Got rested: I took four weeks off at Christmas, lay in the sun, got some rest and recovered my perspective.
- Played to my strengths: I used my people skills to co-opt the traders and my peers, and focused on building alliances, working collaboratively, communicating with all my stakeholders, and getting everyone to work toward a common goal.
- Leveraged the team: I relied more on my team and stopped going it alone. And my lovely team started winning business and delivering results! We ended up in the top 3 in our second year, and everybody was happy.
Let me leave you with my 5 takeaways in case you are ever in the situation of moving to a new location to build a new business from scratch:
- Collaborate – don’t go it alone. Form alliances, partner with people, form a community with a common goal.
- Communicate – educate others on your business and what it takes to succeed.
- Manage your stakeholder relationships – understand their needs and what success looks like for them, treat them like a special kind of client, keep them onside. Ideally, make your stakeholders a part of the solution.
- Be smart about how you use your time and energy – working harder is not always the answer. Leverage the talent around you, take care of yourself – you’re the “Golden Goose”.
- Have multiple irons in the fire at all times, especially when you’re looking for those “quick wins”. And make sure you have many people helping you to look.
Finally, take heart – as you can see from my example, you can make loads of mistakes and things can still turn out okay as long as you learn from those mistakes.
Please share your views and any other useful learning experiences in the comments area below. That way, we can learn and grow together.
A very real situation that can occur easily to top performing individuals. Excellent advice to resolve, but how about tips on realizing when it is happening to you?
Many thanks for this great point, Andy! Will get working on this as prevention is indeed the best strategy.
Hi May- I loved this- thank you for sharing!
I just finished and recommend: “Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong” by Jessica Bacal. Thank you for being so vulnerable- we need more people sharing these kinds of stories if we ever want to truly help make our industries more compassionate places where innovation can occur. Perfectionism is a straight jacket that prevents meaningful connection and collaboration.
Thanks for your recommended reading.
Great points about sharing our stories and experiences to help each other, creating an environment that fosters innovation, and staying away from perfectionism.
Thanks so much for sharing a story that many people, including me, can relate to on many fronts. You make a great point about collaborating with others as I have found that focusing on collaborating rather than competing with peers, even when they may not always play nicely, has generally resulted in a better outcome for everyone.
Many thanks for your comments, Dale. Great to hear your experience of “winning through collaborating” even when others come at things differently. Keep going!