Monday, 24 February 2014


It’s a transition that many of us face at some point in our career – making the transition from team member to team leader or to put it another way from a doer to leader of doers. For many this can be an exciting time full of challenges and new opportunities, for others it can be a somewhat bewildering series of events that can lead them to feel somewhat overwhelmed and unsure of themselves.

This last part sounds crazy, didn’t we select this person because we’d identified their talent and innate ability? The truth is that in many organizations people are promoted to leadership positions because they are good at their current job and not because they have demonstrated sound leadership capabilities. In fact according to Anne Fisher author of New job? Get a head start now; Fortune; 17 February 2012 up to 40% of new executives fail in their first 18 months. Having taken all that time and money in the selection process doesn’t it make sense to you to take the appropriate steps to make the onboarding process for new leaders successful?

Research suggests that there a number of reasons why new leaders potentially fail and in this guide we are going to focus on the top 5.

1.            They fail to establish a cultural fit.
2.            They fail to build teamwork with staff and peers.
3.            They are unclear about the performance expected of them.
4.            They lack political savvy.
5.            Their organizations do not have a strategic, formal process to assimilate executives into the organization.

Examples show that effective onboarding minimizes the need for terminations and costly replacements by helping new leaders navigate successfully the areas most critical to their success. High-performing organizations use effective onboarding strategies to assimilate their leaders; they do not apply a "sink or swim" mentality. Instead, the most successful organizations understand they may choose to invest valuable time and money to position their new leaders to succeed rather than expending those same resources in lost productivity and turnover.

Let’s consider each of these pitfalls in turn:

1.   They fail to establish a cultural fit.

Mismatch to culture –new leader’s style is inconsistent with that of the company. This can manifest itself in their style of leadership eg too autocratic or too laise faire. Whilst this can be less of an issue for someone promoted from within the organization an internal promote may face the challenge of managing the different dynamic of being a team leader rather than a team member and having to renegotiate relationships with former colleagues.

2.   They fail to build teamwork with staff and peers.

Internal hostility or mistrust of outside individuals –new colleagues withhold information or are quick to criticize new leader. This is likely if an internal candidate failed to obtain the position. The new leader fails to build or maintain key relationships up, across or down within the organization. This can be with key stakeholders within their new team and/or peers and/or supervisors. By failing to correctly identify key stakeholders a new leader may be storing up problems that don’t surface until months down the line.

3.   They are unclear about the performance expected of them.

Conflicting messages –new leader hears contradictory expectations about their expected performance in the new role. There can sometimes be a rush to get results, built upon unrealistic expectations of the new leader. As a result they feel pressured to get results and make an impact and act too rapidly or prematurely, without understanding the context fully. One of the biggest mistakes new leaders make is that they believe successful delivery is down to them alone – it isn’t it’s down to having a high performing team and failure to build one fast enough may result in the leader “failing”.

4.   They lack political savvy.

Linked to point number 2, the new leader may fail to identify the key stakeholders and understand what their needs are. This may be caused by the new leader struggling for information –internal networks are lacking; the new leader does not know where to access key information. Ideally the new leader should be looking for early wins to cement their position, however failing to understand what their own manager needs from this can lead them to focus on less important areas of the business.

5.   Their organizations do not have a strategic, formal process to assimilate new leaders into the organization.

As was mentioned above many organizations have an ad hoc process to assimilate new leaders into the organization that can lead to matters being rather “hit and miss”.
The expectation is that a new leader will hit the ground running and will require little support from others. In reality this is a false assumption as high performing organizations realize that to be successful new leaders require a formalized onboarding program accompanied by suitable training and coaching that will enable the new leader to deliver of their best.

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