There is much discussion regarding the on-boarding of executives and the need to focus on acclimatization to a new culture. This is most critical as the “way of doing business” can be very different from one organization to another. Not taking time to recognize how cultures vary and how stakeholdering is established does remind me of one of my coaching clients. He worked in one area of the financial services sector and transitioned within the same organization to a different line of business. The reason he was transferred was due to his growing success, which branded him a change agent. He expressed much frustration with his new unit and new stakeholders. He claimed he had achieved success, developed quite a reputation, and could not understand why his new colleagues were not following blindly with his delineated action plan. After all, he had a winning template.
Proposing this template with an “I’ve been here before” swagger set off alarm bells amongst his new constituents. They resented that their new leader did not take any time to mine their views or solicit much valued intellectual and historical currency. As their place in the organization was diminished, being senior team members, the best defensive is an offense. So what entailed was push back and a failure on the part of this new executive to build trust and rapport. Opportunities to foster relationships were sadly diminished and achieving buy in was a huge uphill battle.
When we consider on boarding there are 3 letters that count as a key indicator for what might be a required central focus. And that is the incumbent’s EGO. Oversized egos will guarantee to derail the executive’s ability to garner the necessary traction. And guess what? When that happens what does the new executive typically do? Does he/she step back and reflect? Not generally. Instead the response is to apply that leadership attribute we call ego to an even more abundant degree.
Senior executives must be careful not to marinate in their own press clippings. Granted their talents win them new positions with ever increasing profile and prestige. The irony is that the very fundamentals of human relations must still remain. Executives with big egos must get over themselves. Humility with a need to spend time truly knowing their team, understanding what works and why, what needs to change and how, are the abc’s that the executive must not underestimate.
Leaders new to a role or new to an organization must enter as students. This is a very different mindset than we typically observe amongst the executive ranks. A rare case in point but certainly an example worth aspiring to is an executive I coached in her final year after a highly successful and esteemed 30 year track record. When she reached out to me I was intrigued as she was now passing the baton to her successor whom had been groomed for the last 3 years. I asked what value she saw in coaching at this juncture. Her reply was that for the last 30 years she functioned as a contributor to the organization, now in her final year she expressed the need to understand how to correctly empower her team and adjust to sitting in the bleachers. She stated “If I can do that successfully, that for me will be the penultimate of my career.” This client exhibited the right amount of ego and humility. Her leadership was no longer about her profile, but rather transitioning successfully to the sidelines recognizing her day in the sun was over.
Executives are under pressure to make their mark and achieve quick wins. The organization brought them on board to achieve just that. How though, executives go about doing such is crucial to their success. They may achieve their objectives but if not careful they might run roughshod over their peers and direct reports. In the end this likely will not win the necessary kind of “love” from their Board of Directors to be considered as a serious contender for their boss’s role. Now that from an ego perspective sure does hurt. Shame when that happens as the executive then departs for a new company. All this can be avoided if leaders take into account the import of cultural integrity. Pacing themselves is a requirement to build trust and foster loyalty. Providing venues that give not just voice but weight to important players is a way to begin that process. There is a difference in barreling in with a template that is presented as the magic bullet versus incorporating core elements into a framework which bears the stamp of both old and new.
By, Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in succession planning and talent management. You can also read her another article “SOLVING THE WAR ON TALENT: SENIOR LEADERS PLAY A PIVOTAL ROLE“, image by Dell.