Developing Leaders – Building Teams

Four Pitfalls to Avoid when Taking on a New Leadership Role

Startling statistic: according to Inc magazine’s website, 50% of leader transitions fail. Wow. The consequences of a failed transition can have a very painful and lasting impact on an organization. From a leader’s perspective trust, respect, and integrity are lost. I have experienced this pain first-hand. I often wonder why so many leaders fail to recognize how critical these transitions are to connect with their people. 

As a retired general with the US Army, the study of leadership has been a lifelong passion.

In the army new leaders transition every year in small units all the way up to organizations led by senior generals. These events shine a bright light on a person’s character. I learned repeatedly how important effective transitions were to build immediate trust and respect between leaders and those being led. It is why the army invests so heavily in this process. 

What follows are four common pitfalls to avoid to ensure a successful leader transition based on a foundation of trust with your people. These pitfalls are based not only on decades of experience in the army but also from my work in the business world. If you are a leader going into a new role consider what actions are required to avoid these pitfalls. They are equally important for supervisors of a new manager coming into your organization.

Failure To Prepare Before You Arrive

Maximize your time prior to assuming the new duties to learn all you can about the organization. To assume there will be plenty of time once on the ground to make good decisions quickly is a recipe for failure. Learn the vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities of the organization. Gain clarity on organizational structure, budgets, critical SOPs and policies. Seek knowledge into key issues you will face immediately upon arrival. Consider meeting with others outside the organization to gain unique insights into the organization. 

Failure to Clarify A Schedule For the First Twelve Weeks On The Job

To help your people get you on board quickly they will need to have clear expectations from you. Provide an outline of your leader transition priorities. Include a list of meetings you need to have and when. Begin with day one and provide as much guidance as possible. Consider having an off-site for the leadership team soon after arrival. Get recommendations from key leaders in the organization. Think carefully of who you need to meet with individually and as a group. 

Failure To Inform Your People Who You Are And How You Operate

Frustrating your people by keeping them guessing as to who you are will delay the foundation of trust you need to build. Have your presentation well-prepared before you arrive. It should include who you are, what you believe in, how you operate and what your expectations are of your people. Meet with your direct reports for sure and possibly the entire organization. 

Share information about your family, your hobbies, and anything that would help people connect with you. From a business perspective, reinforce your commitment to the vision, mission, and values of the organization. Share your leadership philosophy, favorite leadership books, results of personality assessments, and how you like to communicate. Highlight your priority to help them succeed. Ensure they know you will underwrite their honest mistakes in the pursuit of excellence. 

Failure To Meet With And Listen To Your People

The damage caused by big egos can take months or longer to repair. I have seen this way too often. Meet with your boss to learn priorities, expectations, insights into your role along with strengths and challenges associated with your organization. Spend time with peers and special staff (like legal, CFO, EO, chaplain, auditors, quality, risk, and others). Then meet with your direct reports. 

Your intended outcome of these sessions is to connect with people while learning all you can to help understand the environment. Learn the standard on integrity and adherence to the core values of the organization. I would encourage asking three questions and listen carefully to the responses: 1) what the top three successes of your organization are, 2) what the top three challenges are, 3) what is the one most significant priority that needs to be addressed immediately. Determine any trends based on what you learned and take action as appropriate to demonstrate that you not only listened but responded to the needs of your people.

A Final Thought

Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” A genuine, well-planned and executed leader transition can help you and the entire team “get along” quicker, leading to greater success much sooner.

Posted by Jeff Foley - Blog - March 09, 2021