One of my clients, Allison, called me recently after receiving a promotion. She questioned whether her capability and experience were sufficient for her to perform at the next level, even though she’d been a standout performer in her previous role. Allison instinctively knew something that many leaders either neglect or don’t fully understand: The job at every level is different!
For a start, there’s a greater breadth of responsibilities. In Allison’s case, moving from financial controller to CFO was a leap. Financial controllers don’t need to pay much attention to marketing, operations, risk, and brand value. CFOs do, and that’s the challenge Allison faced.
In any leadership transition, there will be an inevitable period of discomfort and disorientation as you become familiar with the new role. If you don’t feel this at first, you probably aren’t handling the transition particularly well.
Then, there are other people’s reactions. It’s difficult to resist our primordial drive for acceptance and approval. When you’re promoted, questions abound: What will my peers think? Will I be accepted by the executive team? What if people don’t think I was the best choice for the role? All of this is interesting but completely beyond your control, so there’s no point in agonizing over it. You can’t change it, so get on with it!
Here are four things you can do to nail any transition to a new leadership level.
1. Ask the Right Questions
Establishing what’s different in a new role is critical to a smooth transition. Ask yourself questions that will help you identify what the role entails, for example:
• How has the scope of my role expanded? Identify the things that are different, particularly when it comes to the breadth of your accountabilities.
• What time horizon should I focus on? As you go up through the layers of leadership, the time horizon increases. A front-line supervisor in a large company might focus only on the current week, whereas the CEO might have a time horizon of 5-10 years.
• What relationships do I need to form? A new role means new peers, new forums to join, and new stakeholders. Who are they, and how can you work with them to ensure your success and theirs?
These are just a few of the dozens of possible questions to ask yourself, so get creative and spend time exploring your new role.
2. Reset Expectations
Once you have a sense of the role, make sure you meet with your key stakeholders to agree on what’s important and the outcomes you should be judged on. If you aren’t explicit about this, you could end up working incredibly hard on all the wrong things.
Use the questioning process you’ve been through to explore any mismatches in expectations. Conversations with your boss, peers, customers, suppliers, and your team should all be part of this exercise. You’ll come out of it feeling confident that you know what you have to do to succeed and you’ve aligned with the key stakeholders in your success.
3. Identify the Value
Leadership is about creating value. Period. Your job is to work out what value means in your context: your organization, your team, this point in time. It’s not purely monetary, either. Value comes in many different forms and can vary depending on the stakeholder. Knowing this is the first step to leading your team well.
You have to focus your people on the biggest value drivers and not waste energy on anything else. If you don’t have extreme clarity on what drives value, you won’t be able to communicate it adequately, and your people will spin their wheels.
4. Build Your Team
Once you have the lay of the land, turn your attention to the team. Don’t simply accept that “the team is the team.” Great leaders build their teams, deliberately and systematically.
First, look for the gaps. What capabilities and skills are missing that are fundamental to delivering the agreed-upon value outcomes? It’s useful to know yourself, too: What capabilities do you need to build around yourself to ensure your own weaknesses are covered?
Next, look at team performance. Setting a minimum acceptable standard that applies to every individual is crucial. You can’t deliver outstanding results with a mediocre team. Find those who choose not to rise to the standard you’re setting, and free them up to be successful in another organization. It’s the kindest and most compassionate thing, for you and for them.
Make the Leap
Induction and onboarding are generally provided only to people who are new to an organization. When you transition to a new role, you have to take accountability for discovering its demands, scope, and nuances for yourself.
Undertaking a deliberate set of transition steps is a discipline — like anything else in leadership. You’ll need to have some hard conversations and make some difficult choices. If you don’t, the road to success in your new role is likely to be very rocky indeed.
Get the top recruiting news and insights delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for the Recruiter Today newsletter.