Three Common Mistakes New Leaders Make (and How to Avoid Them)

This is a guest post by Scott Eblin, author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success. Scott is also an executive coach, speaker, blogger, and Twitter user. He is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, president of The Eblin Group and graduate of Davidson College, Harvard University, and Georgetown University’s leadership coaching certificate program, where he is also on the faculty.

Taking over a new leadership role can be a pretty exciting moment in any executive’s career. It can also be one of the most dangerous. Research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership shows that up to 40 percent of newly promoted managers and executives are no longer in their roles within 18 months of a promotion.

Man Climbing a Corporate Ladder - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ftwitty, Image #10153626

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ftwitty

What goes wrong? In surveys and focus groups with thousands of executives, researchers at Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business identified some common reasons why new leaders can run off the rails. Some of the top derailers are:

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  • Ineffective communications skills
  • Weak relationships
  • Failure to clarify expectations

Fortunately, there are three simple things that new leaders can do to increase the odds of success. The successful executives that I interviewed for The Next Level recommend that newly promoted leaders do these things in their first month on the new job:

  1. Meet and Greet: A top priority for any new leader is to get to know the key players in the organization. Leaders need to be multi-directional early and:
    • Look up and down the chain to top management and direct reports.
    • Look left and right to the peers on the leadership team.
    • Look diagonally to the people recognized as the experts and influencers in the organization.
    • Look outside the organization to key customers and other stakeholders.
  2. Listen More, Talk Less: Those early conversations should be dedicated to asking some common questions of the stakeholders. The new leader’s goal should be to learn the organization as quickly as possible. That can be accomplished by listening more and talking less. By asking a set of common questions, leaders can begin to see the patterns about what matters most in their new job. Some good questions to ask include:
    • What are the key outcomes that will make this year successful for you and your team?
    • What kind of support would you like to see from me and my team to support your success
    • What is working well that my team should keep doing?
    • What would you like to see my team start doing or stop doing to be more effective?
    • What do I need to know about my new job that people are unlikely to tell me?
  3. Find Out What Success Looks Like: The most important question that new leaders need to ask is this:

    What do you think success looks like for my team six, twelve and twenty four months from now?”

By comparing and contrasting the different answers to this question, a new leader can sort through what’s expected and begin to identify who can help.

Do these three suggestions sound like common sense advice? Sure they do, but the high rate of new leader failure suggests they’re often not implemented.

If you want to succeed at a higher level, you’ve got to build a strong foundation for success. These three basic ideas provide a proven process for getting started.

When I posted this, I also gave away 100 copies of the book to those who commented. They answered the question: “Why do you want a copy of this book?”
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