You aced the interviews and received an offer for the new leadership role you coveted. Your new organization expects you to bring meaningful, positive change that elevates your team to a higher level. What an opportunity!
Confident in your abilities, ideas, experience and passion, you know you can meet or exceed the expectations set for you. You realize that your team’s results, with you as their leader, ultimately will determine what you can accomplish. Where do you begin?
Alignment with many constituencies—your manager, peers, your team and other interdependent groups—is critical to new leadership success. Add to that the challenge of learning a new organizational culture and, sometimes, a new geography when the position involves relocation, and it is no wonder leaders brought in from outside organizations too often sink instead of swim.
My first management role required relocating with a new employer from another state. So, I experienced many changes in my personal life before I even began my new job. And that was just the start of navigating uncharted waters for me. Upon arrival for my first workday, I was ushered through the standard new employee payroll, benefit and housekeeping protocols and shown to my new office. My new calendar included a daily 7:30 a.m. meeting and appointments scheduled with my new colleagues. After that, I was pretty much thrown into the pool. Fortunately, I swam.
While most organizations have evolved and become more adept at onboarding, many simply do not have the infrastructure or lack effective methods to efficiently assimilate new leaders. This is unfortunate, and too often means that new leaders are thrown into the deep end of the pool on their own.
During my years in HR leadership and executive coaching, I rarely have seen someone fail due to a lack technical or functional expertise. More often, I witness new leaders fail because they can’t implement change in their new corporate culture, work effectively with their peers, or gain the trust of their team. These realities hinder their ability to get things done. A well-developed onboarding program can dramatically improve leadership outcomes, even if it means pulling this together for yourself.
Four strategies that I’ve found to effectively navigate the waters in new leadership roles are:
- Develop an onboarding plan. Ideally, your new organization will present a plan that introduces you to the key stakeholders with whom you will be interacting and includes their names and positions, initial and ongoing meetings, and details on how your role relates to theirs. If a plan is not defined for you, seek to create your own using input from your boss, your peers, your team and HR.
- Schedule 1:1 sensing sessions with stakeholders. Sensing sessions represent great opportunities to understand how others in the organization rely upon you and your team, what they have valued historically from your team and positive change they would like to see with your leadership. These sessions serve to open communication channels. Seek first to understand; don’t make grandiose promises or be defensive.
- Schedule a new leader assimilation with your team. This should be done as soon as possible and with the guidance of a someone experienced in this process, such as an executive coach or HR. The new leader assimilation process allows a team to know their new leader. Equally important, the process allows the new manager to get to know the team and what is important to members as a group. Many questions get asked and answered during this process. There is excellent value in everyone hearing the same information at the same time. Sharing learning about perceptions of the team through your sensing sessions (in summary form only), can be a positive aspect of the new leader assimilation.
- Schedule 1:1 sessions with your team members. These sessions allow you to get to know your team members as individuals and understand their current work and career goals. They give you the opportunity to champion individual development.
A study of executives who succeed in top positions shows that forming deep trusting relations is one of the four key dimensions great executives display, “Every organization has executives everyone wants to work for. These executives form deep connections with superiors, peers and direct reports, studying and meeting the needs of key stakeholders. They communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial, trusting relationships.”
Implementing the four strategies above for navigating the waters in your new role can help you develop that all-important relationship dimension, empowering you to lead in a more productive, informed and understanding manner and preparing you to swim!
How can executive coaching help you achieve what’s next?
Lance Hazzard, CPCC, ACC, is a certified Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach helping people and organizations successfully achieve what’s next. He is Executive Coach and President at Oppnå® Executive & Achievement Coaching. Find out more about Lance and Oppnå® Coaching at oppnacoaching.com
 Ron Carucci, “A 10-Year Study Reveals What Great Executives Know and Do,” Harvard Business Review, January 19, 2016.