A friend of mine is joining a new organisation in a senior role. He asked me if I have any advice for him to navigate his transition into a leadership role in a new company. Here’s my take: Leadership transitions are inherently tricky and a lot depends on the context, environment and culture of the organisation you are joining. But there are a few common pitfalls leaders need to avoid, especially in the first 90 days. I have been guilty of some of these mistakes as well and of course this is by no means an exhaustive list.
1. Not prioritising relationships
I need to focus on understanding my role; I will figure out the organisational dynamics later.
We have to prioritise internal relationships. We have to understand the lay of the land and invest in building a network. We need to ask questions, listen deeply and observe mindfully. In today’s context, we need others to succeed, more than ever before. In any case, most of us know our jobs and that is why we have been hired in the first place.
2. Witholding trust
My team needs to earn my trust before I give it.
We can’t start with the premise that people need to prove themselves to earn our trust and frankly, it is equally important the other way around. Worse still, we can’t go and hire someone from the outside immediately without understanding our current team’s roles, accomplishments, strengths and skill gaps. This will not just create insecurity and fear but we will also lose institutional knowledge. Getting our house in order is crucial but it needs to be done thoughtfully and meticulously.
This may interest you: Bad Mistakes That Make Good Employees Leave
3. Focusing on present issues
First, I need to solve issues I have inherited, and then build for the future.
Yes – we all get a legacy from our predecessors – some of it good and some not so good. But as leaders we don’t have the luxury of saying that we will address the challenges in the ‘here and now’ and then move on the building for the future; it has to be done simultaneously – else we will always be playing catch up.
4. Comparing to the past
But in my previous company…
We can’t make constant comparisons to our previous company/companies. The most successful leaders know when they need to unlearn and when they need to cultivate curiosity. We can’t allow our expertise to become our baggage by narrowing our thinking and limiting our viewpoint. It is our natural instinct to make comparisons but it needs to be curtailed.
5. Not asking for help
I can’t ask for help at my level – it will make me look weak.
Perhaps at some point, somebody told us that as leaders we need to have all the answers. The truth is, nobody has it all figured out. Nobody. Until we ask questions or seek help, we will miss out on the valuable knowledge others have to share. And remember we have to survive in the short term to make any impact in the medium to longer term. If possible, we need to find someone in our team/organisation that we can lean on.
Read this: Learning From Mistakes: They’re Life’s Greatest Teachers
6. Delaying decision-making
I have to come up with a vision and road map – only then will I make decisions.
Nobody expects us to propose a vision on the first day, week, or month in our new role. Especially not without co-opting your team in the process and without understanding the organisation. However, generating some small wins, making good day-to-day decisions, and addressing what needs our attention are important to build momentum and establish credibility while we are figuring out the medium to longer term plan. These are some common traps that I have seen leaders fall into over the years which can be avoided if we focus on connecting vs acting, listening vs speaking, and understanding vs assuming. And better still, reflecting and seeking feedback regularly.
Read also: 5 Steps To Recover From Leadership Mistakes