NEW LEADERS: Avoid These 6 Common Pitfalls

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A friend of mine is joining a new organization in a senior role. He asked me if I have any advice for him to navigate his transition into a leadership role in a new company. 

Here’s my take: Leadership transitions are inherently tricky and a lot depends on the context, environment, and culture of the organization you are joining. But there are a few common pitfalls leaders need to avoid, especially in the first 90 days. I have been guilty of some of these mistakes as well and of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

1- I need to focus on understanding my role

“I need to focus on understanding my role, I will figure out the organizational dynamics later”; We have to prioritize internal relationships. We have to understand the lay of the land and invest in building a network. We need to ask questions, listen deeply and observe mindfully. In today’s context, we need others to succeed, more than ever before. In any case, most of us know our jobs and that is why we have been hired in the first place.

2- My team needs to earn my trust before I give it

We can’t start with the premise that people need to prove themselves to earn our trust – frankly, it is equally important the other way around. Worse still; we can’t go & hire someone from the outside immediately even without understanding our current team’s roles, accomplishments, strengths & skill gaps. This will not just create insecurity & fear but we will also lose institutional knowledge. Getting our house in order is crucial but it needs to be done thoughtfully & meticulously.

3- First I need to solve for what I have inherited and then build for the future

Yes – we all get a legacy from our predecessors – some of it good and some not so good. But as leaders we don’t have the luxury of saying that we will address the challenges with the ‘here & now’ and then move on the building for the future; it has to be done simultaneously – else we will always be playing catch up.

4- But in my previous company…

We can’t make constant comparisons to our previous company/ companies. The most successful leaders know when they need to unlearn and they cultivate curiosity. We can’t allow our expertise to become our baggage by narrowing our thinking and limiting our viewpoint. It is our natural instinct & human to make comparisons but it needs to be curtailed.

5- I can’t ask for help at my level – it will make me look weak

Perhaps somebody told us at some point that as leaders we need to have all the answers. But nobody has it all figured out. Nobody. Until we ask questions or seek help; we will miss out on the valuable knowledge others have to share. And remember we have to survive in the short term to make an impact in the medium to longer term. If possible, we need to find someone in our team/ organization that we can lean on.

6- I have to come up with a vision & road map – only then I will make decisions

Nobody expects us to propose a vision on Day / Week / Month 1 especially not without co-opting your team in the process and without understanding the organization. But some small wins and day – to – day decisions & addressing what needs our attention are important to build momentum & establish credibility while we are figuring out the medium / longer-term plan.

These are some common traps that I have seen leaders fall into over the years which can be avoided if we focus on connecting vs. acting, listening vs. speaking, and understanding vs. assuming. And better still; reflecting and seeking feedback regularly.

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Shilpa Vaid, Ex-Chief Human Resources Officer, Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited. Shilpa is an HR leader with over 19 years of local & international experience spanning across all functional areas of HR. She started her career in HR consulting with Ernst & Young/ Arthur Andersen and thereafter worked with Aviva Life Insurance and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. She then worked with MetLife as the Country Head of Human Resources wherein she led the HR function for the India business of the global insurance giant. Her last assignment with MetLife was as the Talent Management lead for Asia. Thereafter, Shilpa served as the Chief HR and Corporate Responsibility Officer for Bharti AXA General Insurance wherein she had overall responsibility for the Human Resources, Corporate Responsibility and Internal Communications functions.

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