So, your client has just made the big shift… the successor has moved into the leadership seat. What now?!
This is a question that we hear a lot: “what are the most important things that a new leader should attend to when he or she takes over the top spot?” From over 30 years of working with new leaders in an organization, this is what we tell our clients:
- Clearly define and articulate the organizational culture that you want to lead and nurture. This is a key step as most cultures evolve by default rather than by design. And, after many years of leading a company, it is not uncommon for a leader to stand back, look at the company and say, “Whoa, this is not really the kind of company that I wanted… what happened?” Begin by thinking about the reputation that you want the company to have. Why should people want to work here? What makes it special/different/ engaging or inspiring? How do you want people to treat each other? What is going to attract the best and the brightest? What kind of an environment do you want to work in every day? Take the time to write this down and then think about the key behaviors that you, as a leader, will need to demonstrate in order to model the culture. What will you need to do to ensure that this is the type of culture that develops? These are not easy questions, but remember—without effort, a culture will emerge, whether it is the one you desire or not.
- Clearly define the type of leader that you want to be. Again, begin by trying to describe the reputation that you would like to build. What do you want your employees, your senior team leaders and your customers to say about you? When someone describes you as a leader, what are the key words that you would like them to use: fair, driven, honest, inspiring, kind, intuitive, innovative, compassionate, brilliant, unforgiving, brash, energetic, decisive, etc.? There are no right answers, per se. However, your reputation will evolve… will it be the one that you want?
- Build Trust. Any new leader needs to earn the respect of his or her team. How will you build the trust you need to ensure that your team members will follow your lead, share important information and help you to build the organization of your dreams. Building trust takes time. It is more than just keeping promises and a lot about how you treat people and how you set expectations. One of our favorite resources is “Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace” by Dennis and Michelle Reina.
- Identify your mentors—both inside and outside the company. Mentors are people who are willing to share their knowledge, resources and experiences. They add to your body of knowledge by being explicit in describing how they have accomplished their goals and achieved their objectives. A good mentor has the ability to clearly describe what they have done and can give advice and provide guidance. This may sound easy, but in reality, many people struggle to be good “teachers” because they are too used to “just doing it” and not describing it. An effective mentor will be patient, thoughtful, an excellent listener and a great teacher!
Yes, we know—”what about strategic planning?” you ask! Yes, strategic planning is important—but the plan should support the type of culture that your client wants and the type of leader he or she wishes to become. And, to develop a truly inspiring and innovative strategic plan, chances are, your client will need to seek the help and advice of others. Too many new execs try to go it alone or rely solely on those already in leadership positions in the company to provide guidance. While these may be some of the trusted mentors, we generally suggest adding to the synergistic planning process by finding people outside of the company first.
The first 90 days is crucial in setting the tone for success. Work with your client to articulate the important parts of leadership that are rarely discussed but always emerge… culture, reputation and trust (or lack thereof). If your client has a clear vision of what he or she wants to achieve, they will be well ahead of their peers and on the track to long-term success!