New Leader Transition

Question: Next week I start the job of my dreams. After a long interview process, I was offered a leadership position in a Fortune 500 firm. I am so excited by this new job. How can I make sure that I succeed, and not crash and burn?

Alice Waagen says: Congratulations on your new job. You are wise to stop and think before you jump in to any new leadership position with another organization. What brought you success thus far may or may not yield the best results in a new company with new staff.

Past learning can actually be a handicap when moving into a new leadership position. This is especially true when the new position is a promotional jump to a new organization. When joining a new organization, success depends on being totally open to the nuances of the new culture and people. Nothing causes a new leader to lose credibility faster than the statement, “In my old company, we did it this way ….” Bringing old bromides to a new situation makes it look like you are not seeing this organization as unique and fresh, but simply a place to reuse old solutions.

So how can a new leader avoid the trap of wearing past blinders in the new job? Here are some transition tips to help in acclimating to the new environment:

• Beware of the Big Head Syndrome. The interview process is all about “me.” Endless cycles of relaying your strengths and assets that culminate with the job offer is heady and ego inflating. Put all that behind you and swallow a big piece of humble pie before your first day on the job. Meet and greet your new colleagues with a true excitement about joining their firm and what you hope to learn from them.

• Realize that new leaders rarely derail from a lack of technical or professional expertise. The real threat to your success is from making interpersonal blunders. So focus intently on building interpersonal relationships your first 30 days. Strong allies are assets far greater than financial data or annual reports.

• Know your enemies. Abe Lincoln is famous in the annals of leadership literature for putting his political enemies on committees close at hand where he could keep an eye on them. Find out who viewed your hire negatively then determine their impact on your success. Take steps to keep close to them and try to make them allies over time.

• Build an advisory board of key insiders. A good advisor is someone considered an opinion leader and a credible and trusted person. He/she may or may not be a member of the leadership team. Rank matters much less that quality of thought and influence.

• Cultivate a core of sound external advisors. Ideally these counselors should be individuals who have made successful leadership transitions themselves. Glean from them interpersonal lessons learned to apply to your new situation.

• Calm and reassure your new direct reports. My head hunter friends tell me that every time they place a new executive, they get frantic phone calls a few weeks later from the same new exec looking to fill vacancies made by the resignation of key talent. Reassure your best and brightest talent that you value them and look for them to stay on with you. Don’t assume that they know they have a place in your new organization. Talent flight can put a huge crimp in your early success.

• Ask your new boss why you were selected for the job over your competition. Get him/her to articulate the perceived value that caused them to make you the offer. Then relentlessly deliver to this expectation. This reinforces your boss’ good judgment in hiring you.

• Build your internal networks rapidly. Strong interpersonal relations serve as communication channels for internal intelligence. Buddy networks are invaluable support in the rocky times you will have in the transition period.

Lastly, listen, listen, listen. Monitor each and every interpersonal interaction. You should be speaking less than 50% of the time and listening the majority of the time. This send a powerful message, that you don’t think you have all the answers and are eager to use the wisdom and collective experience of existing staff and colleagues to guide your decisions and actions.