30th Sep 2011

The Shock of the New

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown..”

William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part II)  

The person with great responsibilities faces constant challenges. This is true even for a leader of long standing who is well-established in the role, with habit, convention and familiarity all working in his/her favour. How much more so for a new a newly appointed senior executive, who faces challenges he/she may not have faced before? Below are some transition ‘givens’ – common challenges inherent in every transition that will affect the newly appointed executive – and ideas about how best to respond to them.

Legacy of a Predecessor 

The previous holder of your position was much loved, and you face resistance from your team to your mandate for change. They feel the methods employed by the predecessor were efficient, and are unimpressed by the idea of restructuring. A clear vision, complemented by patience and resilience, are necessary in meeting this challenge. Once the trust and respect of your team is gained, they will naturally follow you.

Inheriting a Dysfunctional Team

You inherit a team of under-performers. A lack of structured planning by your predecessor has enabled the team to pick up bad habits and perform inefficiently. This situation demands difficult personnel decisions, and confidence. An understanding of the capabilities of your team together with an ability to identify gaps in personnel, are imperative for reshuffle. The faster you implement these changes the better. Letting the problem lie for now, will only exacerbate your difficulties in the future.

Company Culture 

You are an external appointee. A poor understanding of the culture of the organisation you are joining can lead to any number of unpredicted gaffes. Having the emotional and social intelligence to pick up clues as to the expectations and approach of stakeholders will accelerate your effectiveness. In order to establish rapport you must be aware of how accepted norms and behaviours are key aspects of the all-important context in which your performance will be judged.

Finding the Right Balance 

As a new appointee, panic may push you into one of the twin pitfalls of doing too much or doing too little. Constant activity can mask a lack of groundedness and direction. Alternatively you may slump into a passive posture while trying to be excessively open and receptive. It is important to focus on the core issues that form the basis of your plan. Prioritise your goals, and preserve a clear link between goal, action and outcome. This will help you to avoid a scattershot approach. Equally, in listening as much as in acting it is necessary to have clarity of purpose; listen actively and critically, and assess new information in relation to your core concerns. This allows you to navigate the maze of conflicting opinions and interests you may find yourself in when you open your mind to the suggestions of others. Be selective – assess relevance and know when to move on.

Outlined are some of the ‘givens’ inherent in role transitions. These issues will present themselves differently according to the context in which they appear, but some version of them will be of fundamental importance in every context. The canny leader will address these issues early in the first 100 days of a new role, in order to maximize impact and accelerate performance.

Hilda Goold

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