One of the most difficult human activities is to take on something new and feel comfortable doing so, especially when your experience in the past has been limited. Remember when you were promoted to department manager or you were given responsibility to supervise another individual? Recall, if you can, how you felt about that responsibility. Were you anxious about your new role? Were you worried as to what the individual(s) would think about you? Did you have self-doubts? If you answered yes, you are similar to most individuals when invited or asked to accept a new responsibility.
Many Speaking of Leadership® readers e-mail me describing their fears when jumping into new waters-taking on a new responsibility when not fully comfortable with their own capabilities. Interestingly enough, this happens at all levels in our career. Such anxiety isn’t exclusively found in the newly promoted, but instead it’s found at all managerial levels including executives assuming new responsibilities, whether it is officer level, COO, or even CEO. In reality, the higher up you go, the more eyes are focused on you and the more the organization depends upon you.
It is an awesome responsibility to take on a new CEO role as not only are the business outcomes tied to your leadership, but the human outcomes of the organization also depend on your guidance. Human outcomes can be described as willingness to follow, retention rate, degree of motivation-all-important outcomes required to achieve business success.
As Warren Bennis so clearly articulates in a book, Taking Charge: Lessons in Leadership, leaders need to align their organization to its mission and objectives, yet be adaptable with the ability to change direction quickly-especially in these economic times. Many new leaders, both experienced and inexperienced, enter a new situation and, for whatever reason, fall into traps they could have easily avoided. I continue to believe that true leaders transcend from knowing the answers to seeking the answers, as I articulate in this same book.
Often, new leaders come into a situation with unrealistic objectives about what needs or can be accomplished and over what time period. In the enthusiasm of recruiting you to an organization, the board of directors may make statements to you or, better yet, make promises to you that, as time moves on, are no longer relevant. Any new leader needs to assess the present situation and act accordingly. Accepting the words of the board at face value can lead to misunderstandings and disappointments in the business’ success and your performance evaluation. One of your initial tasks should be to test the assumptions conveyed to you and evaluate for yourself whether they are real and whether they are applicable to the given set of circumstances. Measure twice and cut once is usually a good metaphor for doing your homework.
As an example, I recall when a new CEO was hired to develop a new product and make its initial sales. The venture capitalists were telling him that if he accomplished these goals, they were prepared to continue financing the company. Unfortunately, as we all know, the financing environment changes and the underlying assumptions rapidly become invalid. In this example, the company was unable to get financed and had to shut its doors. This is not a personal reflection on the CEO, but accepting promises at face value reaped unfortunate results. In this case, the outcome was unlikely to be different, even if he had adapted the strategy sooner.
Another trap to avoid is coming into an organization with predefined “answers” to its problems. Even though your answers may work out to being correct, the worst scenario is trying to implement the changes within the first 10 minutes of arriving on the scene. After all, followers also have ideas about what the solution should be and to immediately “tell” them what your solution is discredits their intelligence.
One Strategy for Success
A key strategy for any new leader is to come into an organization and find a way to secure a few early wins-wins for the business and wins for the organization. Remember, all eyes are on you and if there are early wins, it provides the organization with the confidence that future decisions will be favorable for the business-it also loosens up things up and allows the development of trust, that important attribute that leaders need to cultivate in their business relationships within the organization. Let’s face it, we have all had bosses that we couldn’t or didn’t want to trust. I’m sure we have had individuals who have reported to us say the same thing! (We are not immune). The more energetically we work on building trust, the more successful we will become at achieving our organizational and business objectives.