Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast

Leadership Transitions: How to Hit the Ground Running in Your New Role

November 24, 2023 Gerrit Pelzer, Martin Aldergard Episode 28
Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast
Leadership Transitions: How to Hit the Ground Running in Your New Role
Show Notes Transcript

Embarking on a more senior executive role in your career can be very rewarding, yet it also poses several challenges. In this episode, we delve into the intricate dynamics of leadership transitions, uncovering strategies to make a profound impact in your new leadership position from the get-go.

[3:10]  Understanding the nuances of your new role compared to your previous one is pivotal. Letting go of familiar tasks and delegating these can prove challenging, especially if you excelled in those tasks and now must entrust them to individuals with less experience or lower skill sets.

[7:15] Moreover, grasping the unspoken expectations beyond your job description is crucial. 'Stakeholder mapping' emerges as a valuable exercise. Begin by identifying internal and external stakeholders and discern their expectations. Delve into understanding their concerns and how you can alleviate them.

[12:34]  As leaders ascend within an organisation, the focus inevitably shifts towards strategy and people development. Unlike 'individual contributors,' leaders navigate success by empowering and enabling others. "Leadership is creating the conditions for people to be their best."

[15:36] Even in high-ranking positions, wielding direct decision-making power may be limited. Leadership pivots towards influence rather than authority. It commences with attentive listening and empathetic understanding of others' challenges. The key lies in making interactions with you enriching, demonstrating how your contributions add value, thereby enticing others to engage with you. (For more on influence, see also our episodes Out of Control — How to Lead Through Uncertainty? and The Charms and Challenges of Leading Sustainability.)

[19:10] Balancing the urge to swiftly deliver results with the imperative to build robust relationships and understanding the intricacies of your new role. While seeking to showcase your capabilities after a promotion, hastiness can lead to errors. It's prudent to take ample time to thoroughly comprehend your new terrain before taking decisive action.

[26:02] Leadership training programs offer an avenue to accelerate leadership transitions. However, their effectiveness relies heavily on catering to the needs of the individual leaders. Often, theoretical knowledge from such programs proves challenging to implement in everyday scenarios, making them most effective when complemented by personalised executive coaching.

[28:46] Reflection Questions for Leaders

  • How can I strike a balance between my drive to achieve immediate wins and the time required to nurture relationships and comprehend various stakeholders' perspectives?
  • When comparing my new role to my previous position, what practices should I retain, what do I need to let go of, and what do I need to add on?
  • Considering 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There,' which traits and behaviours that previously propelled my success might now serve as obstacles?"

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Martin Aldergård
Gerrit Pelzer 

Second Crack – The Leadership Podcast (Episode 28)

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain typos and errors.

[00:11] Gerrit: A warm welcome to Second Crack - The Leadership Podcast. This is where you can explore together with us everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and we offer a space for you for self-reflection and self-discovery. I am Gerrit Pelzer, I work as an executive coach, and I bring to my coaching a combination of Western science and Asian wisdom.

[00:35] Joining me today as always is my dear friend and business partner, Martin Aldergard. Martin specializes in driving change and transformation within organizations. And what we have in common is that we always put people at the center of our work. So hi, Martin, it's wonderful to be recording with you again today on a brand-new episode.

[00:57] Martin: Hi, Gerrit. Yeah, likewise, nice to meet you again. And today we will discuss a leadership situation that is typically very exciting, but also comes with challenges. And that is, imagine when you get promoted and you're transitioning into this new leadership role, this next big role. And we will highlight today the common challenges we are coming across in our work with leaders, and believe this will help you when you transition into your new role.

[01:29] Gerrit: Yeah, and Martin, this is indeed also very exciting for me because I'm first of all, very passionate about this subject. And second, when I look back at actually all my coaching assignments I've ever had, I would say more than 90 percent were actually related to either helping a leader in a new role, hit the ground running and create the right impact quickly, either after they just got a promotion, got a new role, or I helped them preparing for the next bigger role. And with this experience I've seen certain patterns, often difficulties or obstacles, but they are not super difficult to overcome once you are aware of them and if you then have the right strategy in place to deal with them.

[02:27] But maybe before we go any deeper into the subject, a quick note. So if you as our listener are enjoying our podcast, you can help us expand our community. You can help by spreading the word; you can recommend Second Crack to a friend or colleague. And if you haven't done so already, please subscribe to our podcast on your preferred podcast platform. It's not only free, but it will also ensure that you will never miss an episode again. And it is also a fantastic way to show your support for our efforts.

[03:06] Martin: And the first very common challenge that we're coming across has to do with expectations. Of course, when you're getting into this new role, you really want to create an impact and you have so many stakeholders having expectations there.

[03:23] Gerrit: Yeah, and oftentimes even let's say if there is a job description, oftentimes the expectations are not really clear. It seems everybody assumes it's clear what the role, what the new role means. And often it's like, yeah, congratulations to your new job, here's your new office, maybe a new laptop, now go and hit the numbers. And I often start when I coach leaders in such a transition phase, I start with a very simple exercise. Um, so if we're together in the same room, I may pick a piece of paper and draw let's say a triangle, which represents the old job, the previous job. And then on top of this triangle, so kind of overlapping with the triangle, I draw a circle representing the new job.

[04:16] And so, let's say, especially in the situation that somebody got a promotion, the intersection of this triangle and the circle represent what people will simply continue doing. But then we have these other segments where these two figures do not overlap, that means for instance from the triangle that is not overlapping with the circle representing the old job, that is what you have to let go of.

[04:46] So you are promoted and other people will now take care of your old job. And oftentimes, that is very difficult for people because they were the experts in that role. But now they have to delegate what they have been doing to other people. And then very often these other people, they naturally have less experience and maybe they are even not so skilled as the previous person in the role. So this letting go, and I think we come later back to delegation, that is more tricky than it initially sounds. And then coming back to what's new in the job, so where the circle is not overlapping with the triangle, you also need to get clarity of what is that actually. But once you have done this, you can do a very nice gap analysis and you can see, okay, what, what do I need to do? What is my role here in terms of skills, competencies, tasks, and, where can I fulfill the needs rather quickly? And where is maybe some longer term development needed?

[06:02] Martin: And I think this very visual way of laying out, creating so to say, a map of what do I bring from my old role that I can rely on and continue doing and start to then discover and note down and visualize what are the new expectations. What are, so to say, the new things that I need to manage in my role. And I come across this a lot in change management when, when leaders are assigned as head of transformation, of digital transformation, all of these different topics, because there also typically you come in as an expert. But suddenly when you need to manage a larger transformation, it's all the people aspects, it's a communication aspects, it's a lot of dealing with external consultants and external experts. And then create this visual picture can be really helpful. 

[06:56] Gerrit: There is no magic behind it. It's just sitting down, writing down these things, and most people, they are so busy in this new role that they often don't take enough time to reflect on these things, really analyze it and, and make a plan for their development.

[07:15] Martin: Yeah, it's not rocket science, but still, I think this is where a coach can be really helpful to ask the right questions to help you discover possible blind spots. And, this leads quite well into the next topic around stakeholders. When you go into a bigger role, typically the number of stakeholders that you need to deal with increases.

[07:40] Gerrit: Yeah, right. And here again, it starts with " who are my stakeholders actually?" And again, we can do this exercise, which I refer to stakeholder mapping. So you need to go back and say, okay, in this new role, who do I actually serve? And when I say serve, that means internally inside the organization, as well as internally externally.

[08:11] And when we really visualize this, what can be also helpful is we're already entering into the field, in my favorite field of corporate politics. So you can look into who holds power. And oftentimes power is not only, you can't identify it necessarily by the job level or the job title, so people may also hold power informally through the people they influence. So if you spend some time on it you can also check who actually influences who, who goes and plays golf together. influence that can be positive as well as negative. I sometimes refer to this as who are the "gossipers" in the organization, right, who are the people who like to spread bad news and who will eventually also talk badly behind your back, and how can you be aware of this, and how do you take care of this. And then also completing this stakeholder mapping, let's say in your new role you often have to, as you said, you may need to initiate changes, and then you can think of who can actually be my allies. Because you can't do it yourself. So who will be on your side once you start this change process. And once you have done this mapping, it's about really clarifying the expectations, understanding also what makes these other people have sleepless nights. And how can you help them solve their problems? And my personal experience is, once you eventually go out and ask people what they expect from you, what their challenges are, many will be positively surprised because you might be the first person going out and asking. And the second surprise can be that,when you ask people about what their real priorities are, you will realize that some of them have difficulties formulating it, so it can have multiple, positive benefits going out, identifying the stakeholders, and then asking them.

[10:31] Martin: And I think it was nice here that you highlighted also these positive influencers, it's not only gossipers in term of the bad sense, but of course, as a new leader, you want to identify your allies, as you said, and the people that you can ally with for a positive influence of the impact, the results, the change that you want to drive. And taking this time to go and meet people, to start to build a relationship with them, understand their expectations, their priorities, this is what we need to do as leaders to build these bridges and start to build a relationship before we can start to push our agenda. I see so many times, leaders in a new role, and they're coming in with a quite clear understanding what they want to do. And they start to push with the best of intention. They think they know what the organization needs and they want to help fast, but we need to slow down a little bit, we need to go out and build relation and meet people, meet stakeholders. 

[11:37] Gerrit: I'm, I'm glad you're bringing, bringing this up. Again, I see this in so many organizations, there's a strong task focus but not enough focus on the relationships. And the reality is we often say we are social beings, but you know I've looked quite a lot into the neuroscience how the brain actually works from a biological perspective and these human relationships are immensely important and if we want to focus on a task, as you rightly said we may have to focus or build the relationship first.

[12:12] Martin: And I think this transitions into another possibility, I would say. It's a challenge, but also a possibility. And that is to think about the team that you're going to lead in your new role, and how can you help the team to develop? Again, not focus on the tasks, not focus on your agenda, but actually build a foundation. 

[12:34] Gerrit: I think I would actually like to combine this with two aspects. So when you think again back, um, the, the triangle and the circle. So as people move up in an organization, let's say they started as an individual contributor and then the higher up they are in an organization, they will be usually required to be more strategic. They need to look at the big picture view. But in order to do this, they actually, I would say they need two components. One is they need to be able to free up their time to do that so that they are not occupied just by the day-to-day business. So that means this part of the work needs to be done by others. In general, leadership for me means getting results through other people, leadership is creating the conditions in which people can be their best. So, people development comes up a lot in my coaching. So that, includes this aspect of Delegation.

[13:42] And as I said earlier, this delegation or letting go is often difficult because you know your past job better than anybody else, and even perhaps you can do it faster, right? If you do things yourself, you know it's faster, but also maybe you might be afraid that if other people do it, that it not only takes longer, I can do it better, and then there is a risk that you say, hey... I need to help my old department, otherwise the performance will drop. And maybe it has been the shining star of the company and you don't want to see your old department kind of going down the drain. And first of all, I would challenge, well, were you really that good, will everything fall apart when you are no longer around? But it's also part of the job. You are no longer just in charge of this department, you are in charge of a larger part of the organization. And also part of this, this letting go is, accepting that other people do things differently. It includes allowing them to learn from, their mistakes. And it's, it's like for yourself, you are at your best when you can be your natural self and so you need to allow other people to, to do just the same.

[15:01] Martin: I just wanted to connect to what you said here. I think this topic aroundpromotability, to be open for promotion, means also that you have built your team in your, so to say, your old department, that when you're promoted, your successor is already there. And I think to develop your own team in your existing role makes you promotable, yes, because, because of course the company doesn't want to take the risk that that performance falls apart when you are transitioning. 

[15:35] Gerrit: Definitely. Yes.

[15:36] Martin: And then when we are getting into a larger role, might get into a bigger part of a matrix organization, where we don't have the direct decision making power, we need to work a lot more with influencing.

[15:51] Gerrit: Right, in fact, we had actually a couple of episodes on influence. We spoke with Paul Lawrence about complex systems and how leaders can't directly control the results that they want to get, so they need to lead through influence. And I think we also had a wonderful practical episode with Anthony Watanabe, the Chief Sustainability Officer of a large chemical company, where he also said, yeah, I neither have the formal authority nor the decision making power, so I need to learn to influence without the formal authority.  So moving up in the hierarchy of an organization does not always mean you have directly a larger responsibility for people. And for me, influence sounds so complicated, it may often be confused with manipulating, I think that's absolutely not true. Instead, what I see working all the time is influence is created through listening, understanding other peoples' problems, understand what causes them sleepless nights, and once you are able to help them solve these, if you can demonstrate that interacting with you, maybe even following your ideas, adds value, then people want to interact with you. So even as I, you know, there comes the guy again from headquarters, actually my boss is always breathing down my neck. I have so many issues with my team and have this and that going on. I don't want to spend time with this person because whatever I do, my success is not directly measured by how I interact with this other person, let's say, from headquarters.

[17:43] But once you, as this person from headquarters, can make this interaction with you valuable, people will seek your advice. And that is, of course, for many people who haven't done this before, an entirely new situation, and it can take some time to develop these skills. 

[18:04] Martin: And, and I really like when you say, when you offer value, you will be able to influence. And I come across this a lot when I work with leaders in change, because in larger transformation programs, usually the leader of those programs, they don't have any formal authority. They need to influence the business units to change and to adapt new ideas. And there are so many cases where leaders are banging their heads in the wall, trying to create change rather than taking a little bit the detour of building the relations and understanding how can I influence change to happen by seeing it from the business unit's perspective, mmm, and seeing how this change adds value to the business unit. Yes. And then, people are all ears, they want to meet you, they want to know how you can help. But, of course, it takes time initially, but you earn it back. 

[19:09] Gerrit: 100%. Time, time is a good, keyword, I would say. So, so far, I think most of what we discussed was related to this diagram with, the circle and, the triangle where it's all about what do I need to keep doing? What's new? What do I need to start doing? What do I need to stop doing compared to my previous role?

[19:31] The next aspect for me is, yeah, you just got this promotion. And let's say, if it's a promotion, like we said before, you are higher up in the hierarchy. That means you are probably also more in the spotlight. And of course, you want to demonstrate to the people who made the decision to promote you, you want to demonstrate that they have chosen the right person. And there is this famous expression about the first 90 days or 100 days. So you want to.. deliver some great results quickly. But I think that comes with a huge risk. I actually tend to slow down people a little bit and take time to go into observation mode. Martin, as you mentioned, you need to listen to people, you need to learn from those who have been around for, for quite some time. And... If I recall whenever I moved on through, roles in a corporation, I would always encounter something that I said, Oh, this is really strange, that doesn't make any sense to me, we need to change that immediately. But you need to ask yourself, there's probably a reason why it's done this way. And sometimes, its as simple as that, that it was useful some years ago and now is really the time to change it. But maybe there are also some reasons that you are not seeing that yet. So what else could this mean? And again, explore it, give it some time before you, kill any, how do you say that, sacred cows.

[21:07] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[21:08] Martin: It's exactly this dilemma of coming in and making a difference quickly versus working with the organization where they are and helping them to improve performance, continue doing what is working well and helping them to realize what might be done in a different way. And I think here there is a dilemma again, because yeah you can go inside observation mode, you can do a lot of listening, but we need to watch out. The organization is also looking to the new leader for direction, sure, they, they want to hear quickly from you, what's your intention. What do you want to do, what's going to happen, what is your plan, how are you going to do this? You're going to have to communicate and show a plan, at the same time as you're listening. And I think this is a sometime a tricky balance. But I have one very good example from a new MD in an FMCG company in, in Asia. And she was hired from an external company into this company to, to help with a large change. And she was very, very active communicating, at the same time as she was meeting with many, different stakeholders. So what she did well, I think she communicated her overall target, the overall intention. While also communicating, I'm out listening because we need together, the whole organization need to create together, what is the way forward going to look to that target. So she communicated quickly a very strong vision and that then became the input to good conversations that she had with the team. So she brought something to the table, all the teams, all the stakeholders that she met then could have a conversation around this vision, this direction. So it was a give and take. And I think that was a nice balance. And I have seen leaders that coming in with too detailed of a plan, of course, they get resistance immediately. And people talk behind the back and say, now this guy coming in and thinks he or she knows everything. The opposite, I have also noticed, leaders that spend too much time listening and not communicating what are their intentions. So between communicating and listening is not a contradiction.

[23:43] Gerrit: Yes. Martin, I'm glad you pointed this out. My experience is often that people tend to be too quick, but rightfully so, you can also listen too much. You can take too much time. And I think we come back to the core of our podcast, the everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes. On the one hand, the need to deliver as quickly as possible, but on the other hand, also investing enough time before you just rush to something and, you actually cause damage through your rush.

[24:16] Martin: Building on this, I'm associating to, the attitude that I have as a leader when I get promoted into a new role. There is like this two stereotypes. One can be the stereotype that, okay, great, I know what needs to be fixed. I can help this business unit or this company or this team, they need me to be successful. The opposite attitude is, I'm coming here as a new caretaker, as a new servant to the team. And I need them for my success as a leader. So it's like the total opposite, two different attitudes going into this new role. And I think depending on what attitude you choose your approach will be very different.

[25:06] And obviously I'm, I'm a big fan of the second version. I'm a caretaker. there has been great leaders in this position before me. I have a limited time here, two, three years where I will lead this team to help them be their best, and after me, there will be a new leader. 

[25:25] Gerrit: And Martin, I think that goes beyond just your personal taste. I think nowadays as everything is just faster and faster and we need, as we pointed out also many times, the collective intelligence of people, the life of the leader who thinks I have figured it all out, let me tell you how it all works, I think their lives are, very short nowadays.

[25:50] Martin: So I think we've covered quite a lot in terms of what can leaders do in terms of hitting the ground running in their new role. What else can we cover today?

[26:02] Gerrit: Yeah, Gerrit, many organizations, they provide leadership training for exactly the situation to support leaders to transition into new roles. I mean, what do you think about this, is this useful?

[26:16] When I hear that people undergo such a program, it makes me very happy, because it tells me that the organization takes leadership development serious, and let's say the other situation is maybe the old fashioned style, somebody gets promoted because of their past performance. And then we think, the person who's the best, technical or the best engineer will become the chief technical officer, the best accountant will become the CFO. But, this technical knowledge often doesn't play such a big role; leadership requires something entirely different. So it's great when companies, send their leaders who are advancing in the organization to such programs. However, I also see that these programs are usually not enough, if they are not accompanied by individual coaching.

[27:16] So let's say you can learn all the models and the theories in a training, but then people go back into the real world and realize, oh, oh, what I learned, let's say, in business school or in this, training. It doesn't work so easily. So they still need the support once challenges arise that they have a trusted confidant by their side, where they then really can explore, their individual way forward. Because every person is unique. Every person has unique strengths and weaknesses. And even if they are in the same company, they experience unique situations with the people they're working with. And this is where oftentimes these generic programs, they are well intended and they are good, but then people struggle with, the implementation 

[28:09] Martin: Like so many things here on the surface, it, looks like common sense. It's not rocket science,

[28:17] Gerrit: in theory.

[28:17] Martin: in the everyday busy-ness we seldom get the time for deep reflection and getting our thoughts organized in a systematic way. And I also think about blind spots and feedback. As leaders in a new role, we need to get feedback. And that might sometimes be very hard when you're just new in the role. So there a coach can be really helpful to identify possible blind spots and help you work that out.

[28:46] Gerrit: Yeah, and Martin, I think you just delivered the next key word for us, self reflection or reflection, taking time for that. Typically, we end our episodes with some reflection questions. Are there any from your side?

[29:02] Martin: Yeah, I'm thinking about this big question about being newly promoted into a new role, how can I balance my urge to deliver quick wins, to show the organization I'm, I know what to do, versus taking time to build relations, to be able to influence, to understand stakeholders and work with the organization to balance those two demands. How can I do that?

[29:31] Gerrit: That's, that's a nice one. And I want to come back to the basic questions I offered in the beginning. So in this new role, compared to what I did before, what do I need to keep doing? What do I need to stop doing? And what is there new? And I think I would just like to expand this a little bit. There is this famous book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. And there are a lot of wonderful examples in there, let's say, if you just got the promotion, that is basically your reassurance that what you have done in the past was the right thing to do. But what was right in the past is not necessarily what will make you successful in the new role. And I think there we have wonderful opportunities for some really deep reflection.

[30:28] Martin: This was a great conversation, Gerrit. Thank you so much for sharing all your experience.

[30:34] Gerrit: Martin. It was wonderful recording with you as always. And this wraps up today's episode. So please don't forget to subscribe on your preferred platform to stay updated with our latest content. And sharing the podcast with friends, leaving a positive review or comment or sharing it on social media helps us grow and improve. For more insights about our work, please visit our website at secondcrackleadership. com, that's all in one word. And we also value your feedback, questions, comments. So feel free to reach out to us at hello at secondcrackleadership. com.
Bye for now and until next time.