Stepping Into a New Leadership Position? Think Big, but Start Small.

Leadership Journey image

March 30, 2022 

Hello, readers! 

In the spirit of spring’s arrival, I’ve been thinking about all things “new,” especially as renewal pertains to work. In the midst of the Great Reshuffle, many are stepping into new roles and organizations, which is both energizing and challenging. 

I’m coaching a handful of clients who have recently taken on new leadership positions. As we all know, new jobs always start with a flurry of activity and often a sense of overwhelm. This is true for leaders, too, only on a broader scale. Not only do they have new people to meet and ways of working to learn, but they also have to convince their new colleagues and teammates that getting behind their vision for the company’s future is a good idea. 

Often, a leader’s impulse upon entering a company is to “hit the ground running,” taking on and taking in as much as possible. But actually, the most advantageous action for a new leader is to take thoughtful stock of their new landscape before moving forward. 

Here are three pieces of advice for approaching a new leadership role with care: 

  1. Slow down before you speed up. There’s a tendency to begin reacting to whatever comes up in a new role; I’ve seen leaders jump in with both feet into initiatives and tasks quickly before taking the time to see and understand the full picture. Focus on assessing your new world and developing relationships – this will help you determine how and where you will add the most value. You’ll want to get in a few early wins to start building your personal brand (see next point), but these will likely be lower-stakes victories; save the big-ticket, wholesale changes until you’ve had the time to comprehend the landscape and create connections. 
  1. Build your influence. From the moment you walk into the door of an organization, you begin forming a reputation. People notice the way you show up and begin to generate an opinion about you; they evaluate you – from your appearance, to your communication style, to your character. The perspectives they form will drive how much they will invest in your vision and will directly impact your ability to galvanize the team around your goals. If you haven’t taken the time to reflect on your personal brand, this resource from PwC may be helpful. 
  1. Get curious. Many leaders feel pressure to quickly exert authority and expertise by uncovering inefficiencies or improvement areas in company operations. While some of these changes might genuinely be needed, it’s wise to be diplomatic about the failings you identify. I’ve seen a number of executives get off to a rough start because they immediately began disparaging their predecessors and the current state of affairs. Recognize that the team feels some ownership about the way things are working – the new leader is essentially insulting the team and possibly a beloved former boss. Instead, begin your tenure by getting curious. Ask fellow teammates their opinions on the way things currently run and what improvements they seek; you’ll build trust and their investment in the changes you eventually propose. No matter how messy an organization’s current situation may be, operate on the assumption that people made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time. 

New roles and organizations give us the chance to reinvent ourselves. Being intentional in your approach to your first one hundred days or so will set you up for success thereafter. 

Patricia Carl