Feeling Overwhelmed in a New Role? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I recently took a director level job with a huge Fortune 50 organization. I have been thrown into the deep end and I am worried about completely bombing out. I have had zero onboarding, so I am constantly making errors and spending tons of time backtracking and clearing things up.

I am really trying to do all of the things that Michael Watkins says to do in The First 90 Days, but his methods pre-suppose a sane organization. I am in back-to-back meetings all day, taking work home at night, and I have a list of deliverables as long as my arm.

When I ask my boss about how to prioritize my work, she just looks at me blankly. She clearly expects it to all get done at the same time. I have two direct reports who are already swamped and I am working on hiring a third one. 

I am used to getting things done and making an impact, but I can’t do that here. I am literally in despair that I left a great job to jump into this hell. Should I just jump ship before I get fired?

Want to Jump Ship

Dear Want to Jump Ship,

This sounds hard—regret about leaving a comfortable situation for a hellish one can really take the wind out of your sails. But take heart—you are suffering from the classic, predictable stage of disillusioned learner! In our SLII® training, we teach that we all start on a goal or a task as an “enthusiastic beginner,” and then hit the wall and become a “disillusioned learner.” This development level is marked by all the things you are thinking: “What was I thinking, leaving my old job?” “I am never going to make it here.” “Should I jump ship?”

The thing I can say to you is: this stage won’t last. You are going to figure this out and get yourself on an even keel from which you can make a rational decision. Big corporations can feel like lunatic asylums—I know, I have worked in some.

You will find your groove and fit right in. Or you may not. Either way, you will make the choice to stay or go based on the criteria you decide.

So what are your criteria for an organization you want to work for? Examples might be: amazing leadership, the company is making the world a better place, you are making more money and amazing benefits which will allow you to do something you always wanted to do. Make your list. When you feel as if you can breathe again, consult it and see if you are in the right place.

In the meantime, since your boss has no interest in helping you prioritize, you will have to prioritize for yourself. Since you are at director level, your boss probably assumes you know how to do this and expects you to do it. Decide what tasks you think are most important, find something that can get you a win, and focus on that. You might choose wrong—but honestly, what do you have to lose? Do a couple of things well and get your feet under you.

Take a few minutes a day to meditate, calm your brain down, and breathe. Take a deep breath in and exhale. Take care of yourself, eat lunch, and go home at a reasonable hour. You will wake up one day soon and realize you are fine.


Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

9 thoughts on “Feeling Overwhelmed in a New Role? Ask Madeleine

  1. Refocusing upon one’s purpose seems crucial to identifying the most important work to be done and how to engage the team to complete it! Planning to tackle tasks that demand maximum energy and enthusiasm at the time of day you are at your best is just as crucial.

  2. I appreciate the fact that you included “you decide”. Making a decision to leave shouldn’t be based on “I’m a failure”. I know that I’m not but was faced with making that hard decision in 2012. Circumstances had changed within the organization I was with. They were being bought out and I had a VERY strong sense that my position would either be phased out, or replaced with someone already within their organization. I did make the decision to leave and it was a wise one. They did replace with someone from within their own existing employee base. Luckily, the person being escorted out the door as a result – wasn’t me. Informed decisions are what make an excellent, top notch, professional.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Mike! Happy for you, sounds like you made the right choice!

  3. I find myself in the exact same position. I recently took a role as Manager, and on week 1 I started getting emails expecting deliverables. I came with enthusiasm wanting to bring positive impact, and of course my 7 year experience. But now on week 4 I feel like I am a failure, like I am letting them down. I have a to do list the size of Africa, and cant seem to complete jack. I try to meditate, and be patient with myself, but then an avalanche just drops in, I mean I am meant to make budget decisions, hiring decisions, and I am on month 1!! And I feel like if I am honest and say “I need time to get it together, I cant deliver on all these tasks” thats some kind of cop out. I shoiuld also add, I have always had this sinking suspicion that I am in the wrong career, but I also dont have a clue as to what the “right career” is for me. I am only 32 and already have signs of early hypertension. I am afraid all this will kill me, or leave me with lifetime stress related illnesses. Then I get so mad at myself, just quit! But I have this dream of owning a farm and living in a tiny house. I am just flustered and confused, and overwhelmed, and unhappy, and stressed. I do feel like a failure. And I feel like im the only one dying in silence. PLEASE HELP.

  4. Pingback: Feel Like You’re Dying in Silence? Ask Madeleine | Blanchard LeaderChat

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