Management 101: What To Do When You’re In Over Your Head?

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Jul 17, 2015
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Readers sometimes ask about past TLNT articles, so every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post.

I was recently telling a story about a time in my career when I had an all out panic.

When I got my first general manager job at Hewlett Packard, early into the role my team had identified a significant gap in our product offering, and the recommendation was that we acquire a technology from another company.

Great idea … but I have NO idea how to do this!

Not the faintest idea

Although I totally understood and agreed the business and technical rationale for this, I had not the faintest idea of how to do a deal like this.

We were not just buying the product or setting up a partnership, we wanted to acquire the technology outright. This was a deal that was going to include things like warrants, and term sheets and lawyers.

(Honestly at the time, I did not even know what a warrant or a term sheet was!)

Thought No. 1:  I’m going to get fired

My first thought was — Panic … Game over … I’m going to get found out. I’m going to get fired.

I’m too young. I don’t have enough experience. A general manager should know how to do this.

All of my peers are making deals like this. Once people find out I don’t know how to do this, I’m going to get fired because I don’t deserve to be a general manager.

Thought No. 2: Get a grip

After a few hours of panicking, I came to my senses and thought —

“Patty, you work at HP. Surely there is someone at HP who knows how to do this! Go get help.”

Thought No. 3: Ask the experts

After a couple of phone calls, I made my way to the corporate development department — and they were so glad I showed up!

I described the business situation, and before I knew it, I had a team of experts educating me about what I needed to know. They gave me list of questions and negotiating points to ask the CEO, and they created a term sheet for me.

I sheepishly took my brand-new knowledge, and stack of papers into the meeting with the CEO of the target company.

I followed the script exactly. We made a deal.

The real punchline of this story

The punch line of the story is that as a result of that deal, I became known as the best deal maker in the group.

How ridiculous is that?

I went from thinking I am going to get fired for something I don’t know how to do, to being known as person who is the best at it – in one step!

It turns out that while my peers where all wheeling and dealing on their own, as smart and intimidating as they looked to me, they were making bad deals for the company.

My deal was accretive. It didn’t expose us in any unnecessary way. It had back outs. It had upsides. It was a good deal.

One important lesson I took from this was a reinforcement of something I strongly believe: Never fail alone. There is always someone to ask for help. Never let your ego get in the way of asking for help.

The big “a-ha”

But here is the life-changing learning from this:

I can be even more successful doing something that I DON’T know how to do than doing something I DO know how to do because —best

  • If I know how to do it, I’ll be tempted to just do it myself. So I’ll be limited to my own knowledge.
  • But If I don’t know how to do it, I will ask for help and get the benefit of experts!

Your team of experts

Asking for help when you feel like you need it is always a great thing to do.

But asking for help from experts even when you don’t feel like you need it can make the difference between getting something done and creating huge success.

The most successful people get the most help.

Successful people are not so successful because they are so great and smart on their own. It’s because they get the most help. They have the biggest team of experts.

It’s good to get smarter

I have always had a tendency to work alone. Since this time I have forced myself to create a new habit of always seeking input from smart people and experts.

It’s always worth getting smarter! And, you may become an accidental expert, like I did, when you make it a habit of learning from the best.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.
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