Updated: Aug 8, 2022
You wanted a bigger role. Now you got it. Congratulations, it’s a big step. It’s also just the first step.
What does it feel like to be in this new position? Most probably everyone wants something from you. Fast. You don’t have a team, or if you do, you don’t know if that's the team you can win with. You have a vision for what you want to achieve, yet every day, you have to put out new fires and wonder if your vision is realistic.
Transitions push people into a process of accommodation with all the technical nitty-gritty details, but also with their own complex internal world. Under high pressure and being in the spotlight triggers unexpected emotions. Many insecurities surface, some you never expected.
Transitions are contrasting experiences. If in your previous roles things were settled and went well, here you find yourself tackling all the uncertainty that appears hands-on. That’s why you got the bigger job after all.
Working with senior leaders in transitioning to new roles is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. And one of the most challenging because no transition is the same. Transitions are common, but they are also very personal.
There are no easy solutions for how to navigate transitions. Yet, a few guiding principles can be your North Star. I have gathered these guiding principles by looking back on my mistakes, experience, insights, data and research. Let's dive right in:
1. Set your definition for the role and communicate it early
Before starting the new role, think about what you stand for: what has shaped you as a person, as a leader and the common threads across your career. Explore how you can bring that DNA to your new role and validate it against the company culture and existing successful leaders in the company.
Once you have a clear message, communicate it in your conversations. First, with your line manager. Then listen and refine your definition based on the data you gather.
2. Listen carefully
You will receive a lot of information through multiple threads. Some may be important, other info may be a distraction.
But in your conversations, listen to what people share with you. Even more than that, listen to what they don’t tell you, to their reactions to your vision, to their actions, to their interests and agendas.
Most of all, observe the common threads across conversations and stay on the look-out for discrepancies. The insights will be a source for your reality-testing, prioritization and decision-making.
3. Build YOUR team fast.
This seems quite obvious. Senior leaders are confident that they know what to do when they are in the process of building a team. Yet, challenges in building a team are the most common setback when transitioning. Leaders hesitate to take difficult actions when it comes to people because they are (most probably) overwhelmed, fear losing momentum and doubt the real benefits of upgrading the team.
To quote the data: 75% of CEOs made painful mistakes in building their team, despite coming to the role with a lot of management experience.
A new senior role’s priority is proactively creating a winning team fast.
4. Hire the right people and keep them accountable
The right people will be people whose skills support your vision and strategy, who are aligned with the culture and values and who complement the rest of the team in terms of capabilities, points of view and background.
You want people who are both competent and have potential. In the new job, you won’t have the time to grow the entire team before you deliver. The time you spend patching someone’s performance is the time you lose delivering on your performance.
5. Clarify the boundaries of your role
This is difficult because the boundaries are less clear in a new organization or new positions. However, without boundaries, it’s almost certain you’ll be overwhelmed. If you are enthusiastic or want to keep others satisfied, you will tend to skip this step and assume the best.
But sooner or later, the boundaries will have to be defined. Therefore, take the time to clarify early what is your job, what is not your job, whose job is it if it’s not yours, what you expect from your line manager, and what remit you have if you’re leading a cross-functional initiative.
6. Establish accurately who your stakeholders are
Your influence and authority are not only the ones that come with your position but also the ones that your stakeholders give you. Knowing your stakeholders is essential, but knowing who your stakeholders are is critical. Make sure you go through all the possible stakeholders and seek to gain a well-informed overview, one that contains all the people that may be involved or have an interest in what you do.
In addition, the blind spot new leaders in the role have is underestimating existing relationships and the influence such relationships have. They only find out later that they can’t get their job done because of existing networks with common objectives. Observe the existing relationships between your stakeholders and their influence.
I hope that these guidelines will help you navigate your transition with more ease.
Today was about insights that can help you in this particular context. In another article, I am going to tackle the DON'Ts in this given situation.
Are you curious? You can find out more here.
Until then, let me know if you find these tips helpful and share any other learnings or AHA moments from your transitions.