You’re new to an executive-level role — congratulations! You’re probably a mixture of excited, nervous and terrified. This is for good reason, as about 40 percent of executives fail in their first 18 months in a new role, according to an oft-cited study by Institute of Executive Development.
As an executive assimilation expert, working for Fortune 500 companies, I’ve been studying the root cause of executive failures for more than 15 years. While there are a number of indicators that foreshadow executive failure — ineffective leadership style, ego-driven decision-making, failure to gain buy-in, among others —they all share one thing in common: they trigger resistance in others.
When employees, colleagues or peers resist you, they will also resist your ideas (even your good ones) and are therefore less likely to be compliant or cooperative. At best they will drag their feet on moving your business agenda forward. At worst they can undermine your credibility when you’re not around.
All of this significantly increases your risk of failure. You can have the most innovative business strategy, a high-profile network and enviable experience, but if you can’t get people to align with your agenda, you will eventually fail.
Here are three tips to help you get your authority and good ideas accepted.
Conduct a Thoughtful Assessment
When you’re new to a role, it can be tempting to push new ideas and plans quickly. After all, you have something to prove, right? But this is an easy and fast way to trigger resistance in others. When you haven’t taken time to do your due diligence — build relationships, respect the culture, learn the history and gain appropriate context — your ideas will seem half-baked. This strategy, or lack thereof, also sends the signal that you’re not as interested in others’ insights as you are in selling your own ideas. This isn’t a great way to be perceived out of the gate. Instead, take time to learn as much as possible. If you haven’t been tasked with a fast business turnaround, you have a solid two months to conduct a thoughtful assessment of your function (and talent) and to learn as much as possible about your organization. During this time, ask thoughtful questions of the people around you. This will not make you look weak (such a misconception!). Instead, it will position you as a leader who respects the experience and knowledge of those around you and who is realistic about how important context is for effective decision-making. Then you can start to offer valuable ideas for how to move your function forward in a way that makes sense to others because your agenda is contextually grounded. That’s a hard approach for others to resist.
Ask The Right Questions of a Broad Set of Stakeholders
Often, executives seek input on their charter from their direct manager only. But this only gives you a narrow view of what’s happening across the broader organization. Instead, spend time with your boss, direct reports, peers and internal or external customers of your function. When meeting with these stakeholders, it’s tempting to ask generic questions like, “So, what’s it like to work here?” Or worse, to just make small talk. If the aim is to create a powerful strategy and mitigate resistance, you want thoughtful insights- that requires good questions. Let’s say you’ve come in to lead a sales team. Here is a set of questions to ask instead:
- What is the best thing our sales team does?
- What’s the most frustrating thing about working with the sales team?
- If there were one thing we could do differently that would make it easier for you to work with us, what would that be?
- What mistakes have others in this role made?
- If you were in my shoes, what would you have as your top three objectives?
- What’s a good way to earn trust and respect of senior leaders here?
It doesn’t take a lot of questions to spark an insightful conversation, or to create the trust you need, as you gather intel. Listen, and the conversations guide your next steps and help you avoid cultural missteps.
Revisit With the People You Met
Once you’ve taken time to meet with your stakeholders and gather their collective insights, be sure to schedule follow-ups and let them know how their input influenced or informed your plans for the function. When people know they have been heard, understood and that their ideas were taken into account, they are immediately more receptive — and less resistant — to your ideas for change. After all, it’s difficult to resist something you felt you were part of shaping. People don’t need to drive your charter, but they do want their perspective considered. If you can demonstrate — that they’ll be much more cooperative.
Our initial reaction to stepping into a new executive role can be to demonstrate how much we know and, therefore, how capable we are of doing the job we’ve been hired to do. Unfortunately, this drive to prove ourselves is what creates the most resistance. Take time to thoughtfully assess your function, include others in this assessment, and then communicate plans for change. Without resistance standing in your way you’ll be much more likely to garner the support you need to succeed.
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