In our recent webinar, Linkage’s Madelyn Yucht shared 7 essentials that you need when you start a new leadership role in order to be successful. If you didn’t get a chance to tune in, view the recording. Below, Madelyn weighs in on the questions we didn’t have time for. Read on for some practical guidance to help you meet and exceed expectations during your first year.
1. What is the first step that I can take to set myself up for success when I start a new leadership role?
The best way to gain support, credibility and traction as a new leader is to focus on what matters most to your key stakeholders. Start by drafting an informal note asking for a short meeting. Keep your agenda simple and to the point—learn about their area of responsibility and how it relates to your role and the organization, so you can align your interests. Send questions in advance, if possible. Whenever possible, try to meet in person.
Keep the information easily accessible, so that you can reference it at any time.
To start off, I recommend gathering: department, name, role/title, direct reports, contact info, length of service in role, etc. Here are several sample questions:
- What are your department’s areas of focus?
- What have been key successes?
- What are the current key strategic initiatives for your department?
- What are the key outcomes you/your department are/is being asked to deliver?
- What is going well?
- What are your challenges?
- In what ways does my department support you? Are there ways in which my department could better support you going forward?
- Are there any imminent issues that you think are important for us to work together on?
2. Are the 7 essentials equally valid for those hired from outside the organization versus those promoted from within?
Yes! It is very easy (and common) for someone already in an organization to think, “I’ve got this.” But the safest mantra is, don’t assume. You might have a new supervisor, new team, new stakeholders, or be going to a new division. There are cultures within cultures, so don’t assume the norms and ways of doing things in a role in one area department are consistent across the organization. Even if you’re interacting with the same people, their expectations of you may be different. People who know you will be watching and evaluating you to see if you are making the adjustments necessary.
3. Most research I have seen typically shows that a new executive is more confident at the start of the assignment than he/she is six months in. To what extent does this potential lack of situational and self-awareness skew the effectiveness of this self-assessment?
If a leader has an inflated sense of confidence in their effectiveness, then yes, they are likely to rate themselves higher and give the false positive perception that things are going well. These leaders are much more likely to make bad decisions and take missteps.
And, after six months of things not going according to plan (which they never do), a new executive must stop, regroup and question him/herself. Ironically, when a leader loses the initial blind confidence, he/she actually had a chance of being successful, because he/she has to pay more attention to their environment.
4. I have successfully reached out to build relationships at my level and at the more junior levels of my organization, but not at the senior levels. How can I break into that arena?
Establishing relationships at the senior levels is important and it needs to be done very intentionally and strategically, with the understanding that you want to manage the impression you make for maximum credibility. I call this Strategic Relationship Management.
Step 1: Make a list of all the senior leaders you want to establish a connection with, and why. Is it someone in your area, someone you respect, someone whose support you need, or a key influencer?
Step 2. Prioritize the names on your list, choosing the top three.
Step 3. Gather as much info as you can. Read their bios, find out what they care about, thought leadership they’ve published, past experience, current initiatives.
Step 4. Consider reasons for generating a connection, such as projects relevant to their expertise or department, upcoming meetings, community activities, etc.
5. Why do people still focus on using the phrase “high-potentials,” which can be insulting? How can I be more inclusive and redefine what people need to succeed as opposed to assuming only high performers succeed?
I could not agree with you more that the mindset in organizations should be to honor, respect and support everyone as they learn and evolve personally and professionally.
As a leader, you can set the tone by communicating that you are committed to creating a culture and environment that provides opportunities for everyone to grow and offer their best so that they thrive and the organization thrives, and follow through on that promise with concrete steps.
That said, organizations have a responsibility to evolve and build the next generation of leaders. This is usually done by asking existing leaders to identify junior professionals that exhibit what they consider high performance qualities and attributes. There is no question this is a combination of luck (who your supervisor is), bias (what they consider high performance, and what you excel in), and visibility.
I encourage anyone who wants to evolve in their career to set a plan for themselves. Determine what you want, figure out what experience and skills you need, and go find how to get it. If you do not feel recognized for your contribution, ask more questions about your performance and what your upper management is looking for.