by Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review, 8/8/17.
A 10-year longitudinal study on executive transitions that my organization conducted found that more than 50% of executives who inherit a mess fail within their first 18 months on the job… there are six things the most effective leaders do to avoid failing in a new role.
Resist the temptation to emotionally distance yourself… Four weeks after my client’s arrival, I noticed a distinctive pattern in her language. When referring to the significant challenges of her new organization, she consistently spoke in third-person references — they, them, those people.
Never blame your predecessor. .. In one meeting, my client’s frustration got the best of her, and while looking over the past quarter’s budget, she blurted out, “What on earth was he thinking?” Well, since “he” isn’t there anymore, everyone else in the room was implicated by proxy.
Minimize references to past successes. …often beginning sentences with, “Well, when I was at XYZ company…” people simply shut down. I told her that those attempts to bolster her credibility were actually backfiring and that she needed to let the merits of her thinking stand on their own, without referencing where the ideas came from.
Know the fine line between self-promotion and real help. Fearing for their very survival, people in a damaged organization will campaign at great lengths to prove their worth. My client had people beating paths to her door with ideas that had languished unheard. They were eager to offer their support, and even more eager to be seen as key players in the future she was constructing. In one debrief, she vented to me, “On one hand, some of the elements of their ideas are really good. On the other hand, they are so invested in convincing me how indispensable they are that they’ve lost objectivity about what is and isn’t feasible.” She felt obligated to hear their ideas but reluctant to offer critique, for fear of appearing not open to any ideas but her own. She knew she couldn’t symbolically accept ideas just to look like she’d listened, nor could she be the only one whose substantive ideas prevailed. She created a process of full transparency that allowed ideas to be judged on the merits of their potential impact, not on who brought them. Together, the team created a set of criteria that future solutions needed to meet, and all ideas were presented to the entire team, not just her. Further, she made it safe for each presenter to disclose any personal agenda about why they wanted their ideas adopted and what fears they had about their ideas not prevailing. She asked them to “honestly assess your idea as if you had no fears about job security.” Not only did this accelerate trust among them, it also allowed the best ideas to prevail…