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Friday, Jul, 31, 2015

New Executive Job? How to Survive and Thrive

Did you just land a new executive position? You must have wowed them in the interview. The wealth of experience and skills you are bringing to the job will be an asset to the organization. You already can taste success and have visions of the contribution you want to make.

Unfortunately I have some disturbing news. For over 15 years 64% of new executives hired from the outside and 38% of internally promoted executives fail in their new roles within 18 months. What is going on here?

New executives are often tripped up by:

  • A perception that they are arrogant ? an ?expert? failing to listen, learn and value the knowledge, skills and abilities of those already in place. A failure to build collaborative solutions results in people rapidly disengaging and feeling disrespected.
  • Driving change before grasping the situation, often imposing strategies that worked in the old job but are not a fit to the new one.
  • Experiencing stress and fear at the overwhelming pressure to rapidly produce and the need to exert increasing control and influence over disengaged employees to get them to perform.
  • Burn out from not taking care of themselves by balancing work with activities that energize and sustain them.
  • Not taking the time to foster good relationships with their boss, peers or direct reports and thus often being seen as a ?lone ranger.?
  • Discovering that the job requires knowledge and experience that they don?t have (such as global marketing, strategic awareness or social media savvy).
  • They can?t deliver the critical results needed.

As a transition coach/consultant for 20 years, supporting hundreds of newly hired or promoted executives, I would like to share the things I have learned that help people survive and thrive.

Your new employees usually are in an emotional balance between fear and trust. Their primary unanswered question is: Will you help me or hurt me? They hope you will fix things that aren?t working but are anxious you will change things in a way that will negatively impact them. They want you to like them. Take the time and effort to see them. Value their contribution. They are wondering: is this someone who I want to follow? Everything you say and do is being scrutinized.

Make your first moments count. All eyes on the new leader. If those first actions and remarks are experienced as welcoming, inspiring, respectful and authentic, they create an uplifting mood that will lead to a great start. Be sure your introduction is warm, uses humor and incorporates an understanding of something about your audience (I can already tell you care about?). While not getting specific about goals, you want your message to be moving and inspirational, inspiring hope (I believe that together we can accomplish great things?).

Rapidly Get the Lay of the Land

You cannot make good decisions about what to change, what to maintain and what to leverage until you have a full understanding of the current situation. Fortunately you begin with a honeymoon period when people are more inclined to share information, give advice, let you know where the skeletons are and what they most want fixed. The key to this information is your willingness to take the time to really listen and the agility to shift your own mindset to see something different. The payoff is not just acquiring the insider?s perspective, you also are building relationships because your staff, peers, boss and customers feel respected when they have your full attention and will become your political allies when you advance a change initiative that they want (especially if it incorporates some of their suggestions).

Adapt to the Culture

When you are from the outside you don?t yet know how decisions get made (collaborative and inclusive or hierarchical?), how information is shared (transparent or hidden), how strong the mindset is for ?how we do it around here,? who the informal influencers are and what is most deeply cared about. And the ghost of your predecessor is lurking in the room ? whether he or she was beloved or a micromanager, people are still entranced to react as if you too had that style. This is a time to be curious, humble and observant. One of the easiest things you can do to send the signal of fit is to dress like others at your level in the organization (dressing up too much or not enough is a very visible cue that you are an outsider).

Manage Expectations

Your boss, staff, peers and customers have an invisible list of what they most need, expect and value from you. Even if they never share it, they will still hold you accountable and will experience disappointment if you ?fall short.? It is critical to talk to everyone and discover these expectations so you can support them or renegotiate them. When your boss is convinced you really get what they believe is important, he or she is more likely to trust you, delegate authority to you and support your decisions. In the same way, you too have expectations for your staff and it is wise to share them and find out the ones that need to be negotiated before agreement.


It is amazing how quickly you can feel overwhelmed by the demands for your time and the crisis of the day. You will burn out and be ineffective if you take on too much and lose sight of those key priorities (remember the ones you learned from your boss, staff, peers and customers?) One executive I know handled this brilliantly: in an all hands meeting he listed the 117 issues and proposed initiatives he had learned from listening intently (he grouped them into themes). He then circled five items that were doable, highly desired and could be accomplished quickly. ?We will start with these as our focus, and let the others things be pushed aside temporarily.? He told his staff. People felt he got it, understood why everything could not be addressed at once, and as a result they supported these initiatives 100%.


Ultimately your success is determined by whether you can get the job done. Research shows that successful leaders make changes collaboratively. Create a plan by including all the key stakeholders. Translate goals into action plans with clear role accountability. Keep your attention on these goals (this sends the message that this is important) by having regular meetings to discuss what is working, not working and making changes to the plan. Most of all acknowledge and appreciate the achievements of your team: share the credit. These early wins motivate your team and give you credibility in your new role, paving the path for long term success.


Connie Meyer is President of Performance Partners. She supports the success of executives transitioning into new roles using Strategic Start? Executive Onboarding ? a coaching and consulting approach that accelerates learning, relationship building and results.


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