The most challenging time for leaders is often in the early days of leading and managing others. Authors Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel noted in their book “The Leadership Pipeline’’ (John Wiley, 2001) that the biggest shift is from being a manager of self to a manager of others.
The shift from having to manage only yourself to having to manage other people around you can be challenging, especially for young, inexperienced leaders. Once the initial leadership skills have been learnt, the progression to becoming a manager of managers and leader of leaders becomes much easier.
Because expectations are high and time is precious, a new CEO must learn as efficiently as possible about the organisation’s markets, strategy, and capabilities. Goals should be set for the end of the first month, third month and sixth month.
Technical learning comprises an understanding of the organisation, and its products, markets, and customers. Cultural learning identifies an organisation’s cultural strengths and weaknesses. Political learning entails assessing how decisions are made, and who is most influential in the decision-making process.
Hit the ground running
New leaders are expected to produce results quickly while simultaneously assimilating into the organisation. The result is that a large number of newly recruited or promoted managers fail within the first year of starting their new job.
While early wins can help a new CEO get off to a good start, they are not sufficient for continued success. Deeper foundations must be extended for cultural change that is necessary to support sustained improvements in the organisation’s performance.
A new CEO must lay the foundation for long-term improvements that focus on diagnosing cultural problems and taking early actions that begin to change perceptions.
A new leader must get people to think differently and consider new ways of operating. Cultural change can be initiated by setting up pilot projects, changing the way performance is measured, helping employees develop new perspectives on customers and competitors, building up islands of excellence, or collectively envisioning new ways to operate.
There are three success strategies that leaders in transition can adopt:
Alignment with strategic direction: The leader’s own expectations and functions must be aligned with the organisation’s goals and strategic direction. More importantly, there must be dialogue to create alignment.
Expanding leadership competence: The organisation must be absolutely clear about what its various stakeholders require and expect of a leader. This may involve articulating the crucial emotional intelligence competencies and leadership capabilities best suited for the role. Leaders need to develop their own leadership expertise, including learning to build an effective leadership team, to manage the performance of others and to effectively delegate and develop others (that is, they need to possess managerial coaching skills).
Expanding organisation competence: Leaders have to understand the business processes that create economic value for the organisation. Higher levels of leadership have to understand when and how to redesign these processes to accomplish the strategy as well as understand the capabilities needed to operate these processes.
Leaders at all levels of the organisation must demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence in their leadership role. Emotionally intelligent leaders create an environment of positive morale and higher productivity and this will result in sustainable employee engagement.
The critical skills for leaders in transition include having emotional intelligence competencies in effective relationship management, cross-cultural communication, effective negotiation and conflict management.
The reality for leaders in transition is that relationships are great sources of leverage. By building credibility with influential players, you are better able to gain agreement on goals, and commitment to achieving those goals.
In the leader’s new situation, relationship management skills are critical as they aren’t the only ones going through a transition. In varying degrees, many different people, both inside and outside the leader’s direct line of command, are affected by the way he or she handles his or her new role.
Put another way, leaders negotiate their way to success in their new roles.