By Kevin D. Wilde

January 19, 2023

Day one of the new job brings the excitement of a fresh start and a chance to show the world what you can do. But it may also seduce you into showing the world something else – the False Finish Line and Superhuman Stance Syndrome.

The False Finish Line is an all-to-common faulty assumption born from the belief that you can back off being open and coachable because you’ve earned the promotion. You step into the fresh start confidently, showing how smart you are, and drive that change the organization desperately needs from you. Or so you think.

The Superhuman Stance is the misguided notion that competent leaders shouldn’t ask for help and don’t need to be curious about improvement ideas. During the interview, you show perfect posture and sold your strengths and reasons for being the best person for the job. But the confident posture then may trap you into thinking you can’t show anything but that perfect candidate as you start the job.  

In my coaching leaders to reflect, many wish a better balance to lead with earned confidence and the curious humility to seek help early and often.

Dr. Renny, a Medical Director and Physician at a large teaching hospital, points out the risk in a medical setting:

“I have seen the Superhuman Stance impact the performance of several of our new faculty members.  Medicine tends to be a high-performing culture, and physicians feel they should know the answer or be able to figure it out. As new faculty members, many physicians are afraid of looking like they are inexperienced or don’t know what they are doing.  This makes them hesitant to ask questions or for help from their colleagues. This lack of humility and willingness to ask for help can lead to  poor decisions that negatively impact patient care.”

While most of us won’t be facing such life and death consequences of a flawed start, the effects of these faulty assumptions can cause us to make our version of ill-informed decisions, misperceived situations, and wasted effort. So consider adding these three simple tips to your new leader start-up plan:

Inventory Yourself into the Learning Zone

The learning zone is the balance of confidence and humility. Highly coachable leaders draw on their abilities to perform — and at the same time are curious to keep learning to be even better. To set your attitude in the zone, create a personal inventory for your best start-up outlook by writing down the following:

  • What strengths do I bring to this new role that can leverage a successful start?
  • Have blind spots caused past mis-steps where I projected over-confidence that limited my openness and curiosity?
  • What are a few practical steps I can take to keep me in the learning zone to confidently bring my strengths forward and manage my ‘watch outs’?

Remind Your Mind You are at the Beginning

Thinking that you need to produce impressive quick wins, showing the world you were the right person for the job may not leave room to hold the precious mindset of the beginner. Recall times you were at your best at the start of something new with that beginner’s mentality. That “cup isn’t full yet” attitude makes room for new ideas and fresh perspectives. It avoids blind spots and premature judgments. Think about times you began a new hobby, visited a new country, or spent time with a master craftsman in your profession.:

  • What was I feeling? 
  • What did I ask about and stay curious? 
  • How did I reflect on what I learned? 

Now find a way to trigger that mindset and feeling as you begin. Put something on your desk as a reminder, such as an item from your favorite hobby, a picture from your stretching adventure, or of your inspirational mentor. As an avid hiker, I have a watercolor in my office of a trailhead of my favorite hike out of the Grand Canyon. Looking at it resets my attitude that there is something new and wonderful up ahead – if I take the time to be open to it.  

Make New Friends Along the Way

New and wonderful isn’t quite how I remember being introduced to the local food while traveling through China. But I remember the rich and rewarding conversation over dinner with Yo Seng En, my local guide, and business traveling mentor. While introducing me to the local dishes and culture, Yo provided background on the unseen cultural dynamics around me and my missteps as I established a new global leadership development program. The feedback was spicy and direct, and as with the dishes served, it took a while for me to digest it. Since then, I’ve reached out to find and nourish a candid Yo-like mentor in every new job and setting. Ask yourself:

  • Who in my new setting can I find to help interpret and navigate the new culture?  
  • How can I feed the relationship to receive constructive and direct feedback on how I am perceived and what signals I might be missing?
  • What are some ‘quick win’ actions I can take to signal to others a sincere interest and openness to hear coaching tips and observations?

Are You Facing the Start or Need a New Beginning?

If you are in the early stages of a new role, your timing is excellent for checking your thinking. How can you step into the position with the mindset of a confident yet open beginner? What specific part of the role or situation might seduce you into the False Finish Line that you have nothing more to learn or the Superhuman Stance that you have to put up a false front of overconfidence to succeed? Who might be your new trusted advisor to provide coaching as you move ahead?

For most of us, we are in the middle of the job, not the beginning.  This note can be added to your toolkit for your next job start-up. In the meantime, consider this mental exercise: as you start your work week next Monday, imagine it’s your first day. Think about your work this week – the people you meet, the project work you face, the unexpected that will find you – and view everything from that new job beginner’s mindset. Consider:

  • How can I add more asking and less telling?
  • How can I pause to reflect more on what’s going on and what I may need to learn? 
  • How could I establish or leverage a trusted advisor to help check any False Finish Line or Superhuman Stance behaviors I may show?

In a way, every morning can be Day One for us. Knowing how to bring the confidence of a high performer and the curiosity of a new employee can help avoid the traps of faulty assumptions. How can you step into your learning zone as you start your day? It’s just what the doctor ordered!