What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?


I worked today with a new executive – let’s call him Gary – who skipped four levels to take over a senior-level leadership role at his company. Gary was now in the remarkable position of managing his old boss’s boss’s boss. He asked me what advice I would give him.

I told him that the first 90 days in an executive’s career are when critical and lasting impressions are made. I said that research showed that four out of ten newly promoted managers and executives fail within 18 months. The major reasons are:

They fail to establish a cultural fit………………………………………… 75%
They fail to build teamwork with staff and peers………………….. 52%
They are unclear about what their bosses expect……………….. 33%
They don’t have the required internal political savvy…………… 25%

I shared with him lessons I learned from my career as a senior manager: for example, how to avoid “skip management” and how to delegate effectively. I said that one major reason new leaders fail is that they fail to adjust to their new role and continue to do work that their subordinates should be responsible for. Gary said he already recognized that tendency in himself.

Gary asked if I would meet with him regularly. I said I would be happy to do that and that we would focus on nine areas:

  1. Identify early on the skills most critical to Gary’s success in his new role.
  2. Clarify what the CEO expects of Gary.
  3. Evaluate Gary’s team, assess the capacities he needs, and help him fill in gaps to ensure success.
  4. Gain understanding of both the “formal” and “informal” decision-making power within the organization.
  5. Assure that Gary’s communication is effective—and that he is delegating appropriately.
  6. Develop collaborative relationships with his senior-level peers and gain a robust understanding of their points of view.
  7. Build effective and on-going communication channels throughout the organization.
  8. Deliver early results to establish credibility—then sustain the results.
  9. Support Gary with specific tactics and strategies for success.

Gary said he thought anyone in an executive role should go through a similar program. “I agree,” I said, “And the fact that you see that means you’re likely to be very successful.”

Related blog: Helping New Managers Achieve “Flow”

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