New leaders are understandably anxious to add value and have an impact. These leaders feel the need to try to project confidence and competence as a way of resolving their inner anxiety. They express opinions, make decisions, and set direction before they have adequate understanding.
Rather than deepening their understanding of the current environment, the new leader’s underlying anxiety and desire for external validation cause them to apply thinking and ideas from their past. Invariably, they focus on the wrong things, make bad decisions, debate what they should embrace, and discount people with the relevant knowledge they need to be successful. Their inaccurate interpretations and poor judgment drive performance decline, damaging relationships and shareholder value. This self-validating thinking and behavior is the dominant cause of thousands of failed leadership transitions.
New performers are onboarded with deep care in other professional domains. Actors hired for a role learn to play the character the director hired them to play. Musicians joining a new band learn to play what, where, and when the band plays. Athletes and new coaches learn the new culture, scheme, and roles they will play on their new team. Unfortunately, most leaders mistakenly believe their past is enough to be successful in their new environment, and most organizations fail to invest the time to effectively onboard new leaders. We also have failed in the past.
From personal experience and studying onboarding in other domains, my partner and I have come to appreciate the time and attention required. We hope our leaders see our investment in their onboarding for what it is – deep care for their success. Our guidance is a gift – the opportunity for new leaders to set down their anxiety and surrender their ego’s need to project (past) competence. Instead, embrace being new, relax, and demonstrate the willingness and ability to learn. We hope our new leaders say “yes” to becoming a more capable and powerful version of themselves. That they say “yes” to demonstrating curiosity, compassion, and courage, as these three traits are fundamental to learning to think and lead in new, more effective ways.
Here are the checkpoints we use to support new leaders in becoming trust-worthy performers: