A friend recently shared a dilemma she was having at work. She has a new boss, a vice president hired from outside her organization, who is starting to stumble badly after barely a year in place. I asked her what she thought was getting in the way of his success and she said that she and her colleagues were not happy with how he was leading them. As we talked further, the situation sounded like a familiar one – a bright and shiny new leader is brought in from outside to “get things in order” and, in the process, misreads the environment, has trouble navigating the new organization, and fails to build trust and goodwill. This new leader believed he was coming in to “clean house” and approached his interactions with everyone in this manner.
This in turn led to resistance to his changes, low morale, and fractures within the team. As his relationships suffered, the new leader’s ability to affect positive change became nearly impossible. To avoid this deadly trap, there are several things an organization can do and many things a new leader can do. Any organization bringing in an external hire for a leadership role should do the following:
- Have a strong onboarding program – Help your new leader learn the ropes of your organization – the written and unwritten rules, the values that are most important, the ways and behaviors needed to be most effective, the things that are taboo, etc.
- Communicate regularly and clearly to those who will work with the new leader – Before the new leader joins and right after they arrive, prepare the team and others who will work with them by sharing information about them, holding informal “get to know you” sessions (by videoconference or Skype if necessary), and sharing what you can about the role, any mandates, goals, and expectations.
- Set clear expectations – That is, expectations of both the new leader and the team. Think about the impact you want this new leader to have, the priorities to be addressed, the ways in which you want them to interact with others. Also help the new team understand what is expected of them – what support must they give the new leader; what do you want them to start doing, continue doing, and stop doing; how do you want them to interact with each other and with the new leader.
- Emphasize what is working well rather than focusing on what needs to be “fixed” – As you onboard and set expectations for the new leader, set the right tone by acknowledging the positive aspects of the team and their contributions to the organization.
As a new leader coming in from outside your new organization, be sure to:
- Make relationship building a priority – When you join a new organization – or even move to a new unit within your existing one – your success will be built on successful relationships. Rather than jump wholeheartedly into the “what” of your new role, be sure to also devote time to the “how” and the “who.”
- Acknowledge past accomplishments, traditions of your new team – Showing that you are aware of your team’s past work and the strengths and value they bring to your organization will get you off on the right foot. Again, even if you know that there is tough work and tough conversations ahead, taking a moment to recognize and honor the positive is important.
- Find a mentor or guide – It’s easy to make a mistake when you step into a new organization. You don’t know the players, the dos and don’ts, or how things really get done. Having someone you can trust to mentor and guide you as you navigate your new workplace will make for a much smoother journey.
- Have a 90-day plan – Before you step through your new office door, have a plan. There are several books, such as The First 90 Days and The New Leaders’ 100-Day Action Plan, that can serve as a great resource for mapping out those essential first actions. Working with an executive coach is another way to strongly begin a new role.
Coming into a new job believing you have to be “Ms. Fixit” is a huge mistake. Even if there are significant problems or you are being brought in for a turnaround, these eight principles still apply; in fact, even more so. You can’t successfully lead an organization all by yourself. You need your team, you need allies, you need people you can trust, and you need people to trust you.
What steps have you taken or seen to effectively move into a leadership role in a new organization?
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