Taking On A New Executive Role? Avoid These 5 Traps To Ensure Success

Navigating a new leader transition is something you should always approach with intention and purpose.

 

Not only is it a time where the stakes are high, but those first few months will fly by. And what you choose to do, or not do, in this stage will set the tone for you and your colleagues for years to come.

 

In my experience coaching executives across the Fortune 500 as well as quickly maturing startups, leaders are often too busy to notice whether they are sowing the seeds for early derailment by their actions.

 

And because the organization wants them to succeed after making a public decision to appoint them, there is an optimism around their early performance that can be paradoxically both supportive and detrimental.

 

o ensure a newly appointed leader thrives rather than derails, it’s vital to be aware of certain tendencies that can limit their success beyond the first 90 days.

 

Even the most talented leaders can become consumed with proving themselves through early wins, only to lose traction with their team and stakeholders as time goes on.

 

Consider these 5 behaviors that well-intentioned leaders may rely on, without realizing how each can inhibit their long-term progress.

 

Sticking to what worked for you in the past

 

If you’ve just been promoted to a new role, you know that your prior success played a big part in your advancement. But using the playbook of your last job can be recipe for disaster in the new one.

 

Consider the example of an executive moving from a marketing director job to becoming a VP of a business unit. Since they are now in charge of much more than just marketing and must make room to learn other aspects of their P&L, they can’t afford to follow the same playbook of their last job.

 

Doing so would keep them too far in the weeds on tactical marketing issues, rather than being able to spend their time on strategic priorities and vision-building. Not to mention, their efforts would crowd out the direct report in their prior role, disempowering them and creating unnecessary redundancies and lower morale.

 

Instead of holding onto your prior domain of expertise, assess your team and business requirements from other vantage points (e.g. what’s important for HR, finance, product, engineering, etc.). Seek out input from those leading areas that are new to you and have a beginner’s mind.

 

Shed any personal insecurity about not being up to speed on everything. Instead keep learning from them while shifting your focus from subject matter expert to trusted coach, guiding your team on elevating their contributions.

 

Taking stakeholders for granted (or ignoring them completely)

 

When a newly appointed leader assumes their new role, another blind spot that can get in their way is by focusing on one group of stakeholders at the expense of others.

 

The SVP of a business division who wants to achieve visible and early wins in the marketplace may believe the best way to do this is to spend their first few months visiting customers.

 

But without balancing this external focus with getting to know and assess their internal team, not only creates vulnerabilities on execution but missed opportunities to engage and develop trust with the team in their charge.

 

Even internally, many leaders, in their desire to prove themselves after a new appointment, naturally start choosing certain stakeholder relationships to prioritize over others, depending on who they believe has more power or influence.

 

Consider the finance leader who operates in a matrix organizational structure, reporting to both the CFO per the finance function and the SVP of a business division who his finance team supports directly.

 

If the newly-appointed leader decides to aggressively question cost structures or assert his opinion based on what the CFO wants (at the enterprise level) without first gathering relevant insight from colleagues across the SVP’s business (which may be at odds with the broader company approach), he can easily squander goodwill and trust from any one of those senior leaders and their teams.

 

In a new role, it can be difficult to know where to choose your loyalties in organizations where political influence plays a big part on leadership success.

 

Operate from a place of curiosity and willingness to serve. Don’t make it about choosing sides, because there eventually will be new players in those roles, negating the bets you placed on certain relationships.

 

Instead, seek to be a trusted advisor to all stakeholders, placing the highest value on understanding them first, before asserting your own needs. At some point, you will be able to call the shots, but only after they experience your willingness to seek their concerns out first.

 

Forgetting to step back and set a compelling vision

 

Newly promoted leaders often will find themselves immersed in a busier schedule than ever, while onboarding into the new role.

 

And in their fast-moving schedule, many can forget to step back and truly develop a new vision first.

 

It’s true that work stops for no one, and getting up to speed in the new role requires seamlessly picking up where your predecessor left off.

 

But there’s also no time like this transition phase for a leader to reset the focus of the business or function.

 

This is the most opportune time, if ever, to revisit and re-evaluate priorities, setting the tone for a more effective way of working.

 

Not to mention, not actually putting your imprint on a new direction may leave questions about whether you are able to lead change.

 

This is why it’s vital to take a pause even if everyone else around you are moving fast.

 

And then you should listen to inputs from others, develop a point of view, test it out with colleagues, discuss and brainstorm together and then solidify a vision and mission going forward.

 

From that vision, you can then start to develop a cohesive strategy and a way of working that makes it easier to align performance and styles toward goals that make sense for everyone.

 

Avoiding tough performance decisions

 

Some leaders take on a new role with an overzealous desire to “clean up the house”. They believe it’s their imminent responsibility to move out poor performers, replacing them with people they deem are more talented and reliable.

 

And other leaders operate on the opposite extreme, choosing harmony over discord, worrying about making any harsh moves in case it makes them unlikable or creates more conflict.

 

Both approaches are common and depend largely on the leader’s personality as well as the purpose behind their appointment (e.g. an urgent need to rescue a failing leader, or a natural succession between high potential leaders in the company).

 

You will want to avoid being controversial and aggressive in your transition, but don’t be completely avoidant around performance decisions.

 

Wait too long to make changes and you enable unproductive behavior while delaying necessary change. You also could lose the loyalty of your high performers.

 

Spend your time creating opportunities to inspire the team around the vision and the strategy, and communicate your intentions around why certain decisions are required to support that vision.

 

But don’t avoid honestly assessing the strengths and development needs of your team.

 

Decide who is coachable and who isn’t. Try to coach those who are, and work with those who aren’t, to co-create a plan for them to engage in a role that is better suited for them, even if that means outside of your team.

 

Changes like these aren’t comfortable for anyone, but keeping your head in the sand beyond the honeymoon period will only damage your ability to develop trust and cohesion with the ones who are actually performing up to par.

 

Not keeping a check on yourself

 

Leadership is a complicated exercise.

 

It’s a mix of art and science and full of paradoxes:

 

You’ve succeeded this far, yet you shouldn’t over-rely on what worked for you in the past; you are a technical expert, but don’t be the smartest person in the room; your confidence will inspire people to follow you, but too much will turn them away; you have so much to offer, but you should do less in order to empower your team.

 

For these reasons, leadership is not a linear exercise but one that requires constant agility and revision.

 

And the only way to excel at something where it matters less if you are right than if you are effective, is to seek feedback to gauge how you’re doing.

 

This can come from those you lead as well as those you don’t. It can even come from yourself if you take the time to reflect.

 

But the key is to constantly check on yourself from various lenses to assess what’s working well, what isn’t, what’s in the way and what can you try differently?

 

For newly appointed leaders, divergent thinking is needed more than convergent thinking: don’t just look for the perfect answer to every question – because there usually isn’t one at this level. Instead look for the perfect questions to ask that will enlighten you and those you lead.

 

This is a different kind of exercise than what high performers are used to, but practicing it makes all the difference when you get to the executive level of leadership.

 

And when you are transitioning into a new role, it’s the most challenging – yet imperative – time to keep feedback channels open so that you aren’t operating from hubris. Because these are the blind spots that lead to chaotic leadership: changing direction constantly and communicating without clarity (or sometimes not at all).

 

Keep a check on yourself and own your part in how your teams operate through your guidance (or lack thereof). Look after your physical and emotional needs as well, in order to be at your best in leading them. And by experimenting on new approaches without judgment, you’ll find continuous success after this new appointment, well into the second year and beyond.

 

Source: Forbes – Nihar Chhaya

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