By Stephen J Thompson
Leaders tend to be closely identified with the organizations they lead. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that leaders can change jobs just like anyone else. And most do, sooner or later–even founders tend to eventually move on from the organizations they created, nurtured and led. (I should know–I recently moved on from running the international healthcare organization I started 15 years ago at Johns Hopkins Medicine to take on the challenge of helping to grow partnerships nationally and globally for Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital.)
Moving into a leadership role at a different organization presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities right from the get-go. Those first critical months are often referred to as a “honeymoon” period. And yes, to be sure, it can be a period of high optimism, mutual good will and eagerness to collaborate. But it can also be a baptism by fire.
In practice, the new leadership role is likely to have elements of each. Here are some ways to increase the chances of getting off on the right foot, and avoiding a good scorching.
Spend more time listening, and less talking. People will be eager to hear what you have to say so they can get a read on you. And it’s important to be honest and transparent rather than mysterious. But before you say too much, it’s better to encourage everyone around you to tell you who they are, what they think is working and not, and what their expectations are moving forward.
Assess, don’t judge. Chances are you’ll have inherited at least part of a team. You’ll have the opportunity to make whatever changes you think are appropriate, but for now, don’t judge people–just neutrally assess them. It may well be that someone who at first seems to you to be on the wrong track turns out to be exactly the person you didn’t realize you need to help you move the organization forward.
Don’t import too much. You probably won your new role by being successful at your last one. What worked for you before might work for you again–but it’s a huge mistake to count on it. It’s fine to hew to the same set of values and principles, but recognize there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting an organization to reach its potential. You probably need a new set of strategies and tactics.
Probe the cultural norms. Organizational culture is a powerful force, one that you need to channel in your favor rather than fight. Work hard to understand what the sometimes subtle cultural elements are, and think about how your goals and approaches can best be aligned with them.
Build bridges, don’t blow them up. The initial good will you encounter up front is valuable currency. Spend it wisely, setting up solid relationships built on honesty, trust and shared values. There’s little to be gained in neglecting or rejecting anyone or any processes at this point. Ineffectual bridges will fall on their own in due time, they don’t need a premature push from you.
Go easy on fast change. Leaders sometimes come into an organization prepared to fix everything, especially in a turnaround situation. But there are probably any number of good people and processes already in place, waiting for the right leader to unlock their potential. Better at first to focus on mining these raw materials in the organization, and making them key resources in support of your efforts.
Why risk a flame-out in an effort to prove you’re a bold, fast-acting fixer? Providing a smooth transition into your leadership role in these ways will help ensure you have a stronger and longer-lasting impact down the road.
Published in collaboration with LinkedIn
Author: Steven J. Thompson is a Senior Vice President, Chief Business Development Officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
A Practical Handbook