• July 2010

Power Plays: Why Leadership Is A Delicate Balance

By Dr. Alice Waagen
Founder and President
Workforce Learning

As we travel down the various paths of professional advancement, we accumulate a hoard of internal rules and logic based on our successes and, more painfully, our failures. But past learning can actually be a handicap when moving into a new leadership position.

This is especially true when the new position is a promotional jump to a new organization because success depends on being totally open to the nuances of the new culture and people.

Nothing causes a new leader to lose credibility faster than the statement, “In my old company, we did it this way …” Why? Because bringing old bromides to a new situation makes it look like you are not seeing this organizing as unique and fresh.

How can a leader entering into a new organization avoid the trap of wearing past blinders in the new job?

Here are some transition tips to help in acclimating to the new environment:

  • Beware of the Big Head syndrome. The interview process is all about “me.” Endless cycles of relaying your strengths and assets that culminate with the job offer is heady and ego inflating. Put all that behind you and swallow a big piece of humble pie before your first day on the job. Meet and greet your new colleague with a true excitement about joining their firm and what you hope to learn from them.
  • Realize that new leaders rarely derail from a lack of technical or professional expertise. The real threat to your success is from making interpersonal blunders. So focus intently on building interpersonal relationships your first 30 days. Strong allies are assets far greater than financial data or annual reports.
  • Know your enemies. Abe Lincoln is famous in the annals of leadership literature for putting his political enemies on committees close at hand where he could keep an eye on them. Find out who viewed your hire negatively then determine their impact on your success. Take steps to keep close to them and try to make them allies over time.
  • Build an advisory board of key insiders. A good advisor is someone considered an opinion leader and a credible and trusted person. He/she may or may not be a member of the leadership team. Rank matters much less that quality of thought and influence.
  • Cultivate a core of sound external advisors. Ideally these counselors should be individuals who have made successful leadership transitions themselves. Glean from them interpersonal lessons learned to apply to your new situation.
  • Calm and reassure your new direct reports. My head hunter friends tell me that every time they place a new executive, they get frantic phone calls a few weeks later from the same new exec looking to fill vacancies made by the resignation of key talent. Reassure the best and brightest in your ranks that you value them and look for them to stay on with you. Don’t assume that they know they have a place in your new organization. Talent flight can put a huge crimp in your early success.
  • Ask your new boss why you were selected for the job over your competition. Get him/her to articulate the perceived value that caused them to make you the offer. Then relentlessly deliver to this expectation. This reinforces your boss’ good judgment in hiring you.
  • Build your internal networks rapidly. Strong interpersonal relations serve as communication channels for internal intelligence. Buddy networks are invaluable support in the rocky times you will have in the transition period.
  • Lastly, listen, listen, listen. Monitor each and every interpersonal interaction. You should be speaking less than 50% of the time and listening the majority of the time. This sends a powerful message, that you don’t think you have all the answers and are eager to use the wisdom and collective experience of existing staff and colleague to guide your decisions and actions.


About Alice Waagen

Alice Waagen, Ph.D., is president and founder of Workforce Learning LLC, a leadership development company she founded in 1997. In the past three years alone, more than 125 leaders from 24 different organizations have graduated from Alice’s unique leadership-development workshop series.

Previously, Alice served as senior director of corporate training for Amtrak in Washington, DC, and director of education, training and development for Freddie Mac in McLean, VA. In both of those positions, Alice created and implemented workplace development programs that served clients from the shop floor to the executive suite.

For more information, contact Alice at alice@workforcelearning.com

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