Help desk: Build new relationships with your colleagues on the board

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Dear Help Desk,

Three months ago I was appointed a director of my company. However, I find my board colleagues highly political, cold and unfriendly. I have the feeling that I am the newcomer everyone is watching, criticising and waiting to see fail. Previously I was close to my subordinates. Now I find it hard to approach them in the way I did. I am finding it difficult to sleep and am seriously worried about my mental state. I am not sure I can cope with my new responsibilities. I feel trapped - I cannot go back and I cannot stay where I am. What can I do?

Anon

Peter Piranty, Senior Counsellor/Manager at Stress at Work

The sooner you feel able to explore in detail your colleagues' different positions, perceptions and alliances the better. They could feel threatened by your different skills, fear your power-base and be envious of your ambition and drive. It may be useful to use your newness and discomfort as a conversation opener. Colleagues may admit to feeling uncomfortable too, needing someone to break the ice. The bottom line is your emotional health. Perhaps you need to find someone outside the situation you can trust and discuss things with in detail. Sleep deprivation untreated can quickly spiral into depression and affect our capacities and judgement. This is not the time to make major life changes. So begin to mobilise your own private board, and see your GP. Then you will be in a better state to assess your own position.

Hamish Vaughan-Masson, Professional Development Executive at the Institute of Directors

A new director always changes the board's dynamics. It is important that you determine where your expertise lies and where you can make a strong contribution, probably relating to your previous area of responsibility. Identify another director with a similar interest and start to build relationships. It is important that you approach your new role with confidence, since other directors will sense any uncertainty. Start with an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses and determinewhat areas you could improve. Obtain a copy of Guidelines for Directors (from book shops or the IoD). Address issues and not personalities.

Paul Roscorla, Occupational Psychologist at Acker Deboeck

You may feel that your subordinates see you differently now, but you are the same person. You do not have to lose their support, so act to keep it. You have to make new relationships with your board colleagues. Be proactive and arrange to meet each of them individually for lunch to discuss particular issues. Also, you will benefit by understanding how the board really works, much being achieved by negotiation and agreement outside meetings. You need to avoid becoming isolated. Identify a colleague on the board who was recently in a similar position. You will find others have had to go through the same difficult adjustment.

Angela Baron, Policy Advisor at the Institute of Personnel and Development

Look at ways to give yourself a boost. Find a short-term project that isn't too challenging and use it to prove your abilities to the board. You don't need to behave like the rest of the board. As for your subordinates, try to be sympathetic - they may feel vulnerable. Establish ground rules early on, talk over potential problems and reassure everyone it is confidential. Once people see you're treating them fairly, they will start to trust you.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

If you would like expert advice about a work problem, write to Helpdesk, City+, Features, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax: 0171-293 2182 or e-mail c.fielding@independent.co.uk

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