Far too often executives entering new roles fail. Even the most talented leaders can start slow, stumble, or crash and burn!
Given the importance of leadership success to companies and the investment of time, money, and energy that typically goes into hiring senior leaders, why do we let this happen? And more importantly, what can we do to ensure leaders are on the right track and making an impact at an accelerated pace?
Why good leaders often fail in new roles
Simply put, the odds are stacked against new leaders. Here are a few scenarios we see over and over:
- A leader has lots of strengths, but the ones they relied on in past roles are inapplicable, overused or a liability in a new role. And – tragically – the leader is the last to know about these blind spots.
- Everyone – the executive coming in and the new company – assumes that onboarding and integration are either unnecessary or can effectively happen within the first few days or weeks.
- People secretly (or not so secretly) expect the new leader to solve all their problems right away, and the new leader – anxious to prove their worth – conspires with them and initiates a change before they are ready.
- Insufficient attention is paid to the team. No one person can make a company thrive; high-performing teams make high-performing companies. So, even if a new leader is great, they still need: (a) strong partners and (b) a team that’s working well together.
- Incumbent executives or founders block or unknowingly sabotage the new leader. Yup, it happens.
And these are just a few of the situations we see. It’s no wonder that the success rate for new executives is so low!
Ways to ensure success
Fortunately, there are proven measures we can take to increase the impact of new leaders.
A few basics should not be overlooked. A 90-day road map, written in partnership with the CEO and CHRO, will clarify expectations in the early stages. Biweekly check-ins with the CHRO provide a structured forum to help navigate new relationships and nuances of the culture. New executives, in a desire to project confidence and competence, sometimes make the mistake of forgoing these opportunities to build and leverage key partnerships. Don’t fall into that trap.
Beyond these basics, the most important steps are to:
- Build robust, trusting relationships with the founders, the chief executive, and other senior leaders. Social outings and informal interactions are good. But leaders get more mileage out of working together, to discover areas of alignment and potential conflict in interpersonal style, coupled with thoughtful efforts to align on goals, roles and work processes. Such work provides an essential foundation that new leaders can rely on when they hit inevitable bumps in the road.
- Know their strengths and weaknesses in the new role. At their peril, executives’ overestimate what they know about their own strengths and weaknesses, particularly in relation to the new job. The right assessments of technical capabilities and personal style, combined with honest, supportive feedback illuminate blind spots and steer new executives clear of pitfalls.
- First identify and then and develop the leadership team. We suggest new leaders take a phased approach to their teams. Immediately, of course, a team assimilation exercise facilitated by an internal or external partner lays the groundwork for new working relationships. Over the near-term, the leader can assess who is strong, overlooked, lacking requisite capabilities, in need of development or better suited to a different role. Only after they are clear about who is on the team should they begin the work of developing them into a team.
- Articulating vision and strategy. New executives need to identify the right time to take up vision and strategy. They should have more than a toe in the water, so they understand the market, company needs, and opportunities. But if they wait until they’re neck deep, they risk losing their outside perspective.
The start date for a new leader may end the hiring process, but it’s just the beginning of the work needed for the leader to optimize their value. Investing in the process of onboarding and integration puts the person on course to have a big impact fast.
In future installments we will expand on each of these elements, providing tips and tools for new leaders to effectively carry out the steps that lead to a successful transition.
Ted Freeman has 20 years experience as an organization development consultant and HR executive. Based in New York City, Ted works with clients in the areas of leadership development, organizational effectiveness and executive coaching. Most recently, he served as the Chief People and Culture Officer at EILEEN FISHER where he led development and execution of a comprehensive strategy for transforming the business model, supply chain operations, technology and culture.
Interested in learning more?Contact Ted