Succeeding in a New Role

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Insights

What should you do if you are about to start a new role? A friend of mine is just about to start a new, senior leadership role, so to help her (and you) here are a few ideas.

Begin learning and questioning fast – ideally before you start the new job

When starting a new job, focus your first month on finding out as much as you can about the organisation, the people, and your role. This can start before you assume the new job by browsing the company website and talking with people who know the organisation well, such as former employees. Soon after you begin, review plans and performance data. Look through recent reviews for all of your direct reports. Meet with each of them one-on-one and ask about their view of the team and where it needs to go. While you’re taking in all of this information, be sure to develop hypotheses about what you need to get done and the best way to go about it. Use the time and unique situation to begin asking questions – a habit that should continue. It can help to start by questioning yourself as you prepare for your new role. For example:

  • What information do you need before starting your new role? How can you acquire this information quickly?
  • What are likely to be the most significant working relationships? Can you start building these before you take up your new role?
  • How much time do you plan to set aside for yourself and your family? If you are moving location, what will you do to get to know your new environment?
  • What expectations do you have – what do you want to achieve – and what are your boss’s expectations? Are these reasonable? Can you manage expectations so that you achieve what is possible, while allowing yourself to excel and to exceed expectations?
  • Are you aware of your leadership and decision-making style? Do you know how your behaviour affects others, and do you have the right style, mindset and attitude?
  • Have you set time aside to understand the issues and plan your approach to the new role? Are you leaving your current role in a professional and supportive way, giving your successor the same support that you will need in your new role?
  • Do you have a balanced and clear perspective about the business – its strengths and weaknesses, products, markets, customers, people and opportunities?
  • Are you ready to engage people in your new role? Are you prepared to build coalitions with others? This is essential, if you are to identify and achieve early wins.
  • What long-term changes might be needed? Do you have a broad timescale for what you would like to achieve, and the actions needed to accomplish this?
  • Are you ready to develop a vision for the business – a view of the future to guide people’s actions, to challenge and inspire individuals and to appeal to customers and other stakeholders?
  • Have you assessed your own weaknesses? Is there a mentor or coach you could work with to support you during the transition and to help you achieve your aims?

Be clear and intentional about how you want to be 

What do you want people to say about you? What sort of leader do you aspire to be? What personal qualities would you like to characterise your leadership? Decide what these are and then discuss them with someone – a friend, coach, a colleague, crucially it should be someone you trust. Think through what you need to develop, change, do differently, the limiting beliefs you need to overcome, and what your leadership style will mean in practice. What will you do more or better – and how? 

Understand what you need to do to succeed in your current role, and to prepare for the next one 

This trick was expertly described in the book The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel. Be clear about the baseline for the job, the essentials, as well as what outcomes will make you exceptional in the role. Then, think through the skills and behaviours you need to develop and demonstrate now, if you are to progress to the next role.   

Start by building trust

Most leaders emphasise their competence, strength, and credentials, but none of that matters if people don’t trust you. Win people over with warmth. Here’s how:

  • Pay attention to your body language and use the right tone. Aim for a tone that suggests that you’re levelling with people and being completely honest.
  • Validate feelings. If you show your employees that you hold roughly the same worldview they do, you demonstrate not only empathy but, in their eyes, common sense. If you want colleagues to listen and agree with you, first agree with them.
  • Be warm, smile—and mean it. Smiling is contagious. When people see you beaming, they’ll likely smile too. But a polite grin fools no one. To project warmth, you have to genuinely feel it.

Prepare your story – a professional personal portrait 

It helps to plan in advance how you will present yourself: your career history, experience, successes, interests, aspirations – the kind of person you are. Be open, engaging, real, and, crucially, be prepared. 

Set routines

Routines are a great way for you to ease yourself in to a role; they not only help you but also your family and colleagues as well. They can also help you stay balanced at a time when you may be pulled in different directions.  

Set short- and long-term goals 

It’s important to know what “good” will look like: the results you need to achieve and also the things you want to accomplish. Life is about choices, especially at the senior level. So, what are you choosing to prioritise? In particular, focus on the goals you want to achieve in the first: 

  • 30 days 
  • Three months 
  • Year

… and by the time you move on to the next role. These goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (for both your career and of course for the organisation), and timely.  

Be confident and clear about your strengths 

Confidence isn’t something you either have or you don’t. It’s a dynamic emotion that needs exercise to grow stronger and can diminish if neglected. Here are two ways to build and maintain confidence. First, take inventory of your past. It’s easy to doubt yourself and your abilities. But if you look at your track record, chances are that your successes outweigh your failures. And, more importantly, you likely survived your missteps and gleaned lessons along the way. Second, focus on your strengths. Most leaders are very strong in a few competencies, average in the majority, and weak in a few. Concentrate on leveraging what you’re best at. Then, manage your average and weak areas so they don’t detract from your effectiveness.

Find and pick the low hanging fruit  

Nothing succeeds (or generates momentum) like success. So, find out what will make the most impact in the easiest / cheapest / fastest way, and then set about delivering that. One tip: an after action review can help set the tone for the future – showing that learning is vital and continuous, as well as enabling you to build on that initial success. 

Remember the three people to talk to when you start a new job

Often there is so much new information that it’s difficult to know where to focus. In this situation it can help to speak early with: 

  • Frontline employees. People who develop and deliver products or deliver can familiarise you with the organisation’s basic processes and relationships with key customers.
  • Networkers and integrators. Colleagues who coordinate interaction across functions (e.g. HR, finance or plant managers) can tell you how different areas connect with each other – or how they don’t. They can shed light on the true political hierarchies.
  • Company historians. Look for colleagues who have been with the firm for a long time. They’ll be able to teach you about the company’s mythology and the roots of its culture.

Develop your influence by listening

People don’t like being pushed, or even nudged, to do something. So when you need others to take action—change behaviour, adopt a new strategy—inspire them to commit rather than forcing them to get on board. The best way to do this is to listen, without your own needs and biases getting in the way. Try to understand where your colleagues are coming from. Resist the urge to defend yourself, explain yourself, or offer quick fixes. You can help more effectively later, when the time is right, if you don’t pre-judge what they need (which might be very different from what you think). Instead, remember that you are listening to learn. Ask questions like: What does that mean for you? How do you feel about it? What’s your perspective on it? This is listening of the highest order.

Build a strong relationship with your new boss

Your boss has more impact than any other person on your success or failure at work. When starting a new job, it pays to invest in this relationship. Here’s how to start the right way. First, don’t stay away. Even if the boss gives you a lot of freedom, resist the urge to take it. Get on your manager’s calendar regularly to communicate any issues you’re facing and gather their input. Also, assume they want to focus on the most important things you’re trying to do and how they can help. Focus on no more than three things in each meeting. Finally, clarify expectations early and often. Start during the interview process then check in regularly to make sure they haven’t shifted.

Delegate successfully – in the right way from the start 

Many new managers start by delegating poorly, creating problems for the future. It is vital to get this right from the start. Here are suggestions for improving the delegation process and avoiding the label of micromanagement:

  • Delegate the problem, don’t solve it. The first sign of micromanaging is when delegating a project you also delegate the specifics of the solution. While that makes sense in some fields, in creative or information work, being told up front the steps to follow makes one feel like a vendor and not a partner in the work. This type of delegation doesn’t have the feeling that it enhances skills or career. If the steps are well-known then perhaps there is a different view of the problem or delegation that will better suit a creative member of the team.
  • Share experiences, don’t instruct. As the work progresses there’s a chance that the manager will see a pattern or similar situation arise. There’s a good chance the way that experience is communicated can come across as either “sage sharing of experiences” or “more micromanaging”. If there are experiences to share then share the story and allow the learning to take place by allegory and not turn the learning into “just do these steps”.
  • Listen to progress, don’t review it. Just as managers should be delegating the problem, not the steps to solving it, when it comes time for progress to be reported it is best to let folks report on the progress the way it works best. Micromanaging can also take the form of being specific about how progress should be reported or “summoning” people to review the progress. If folks have been asked to take on a project, make sure they have the freedom to define the mechanics of the project as well.
  • Provide feedback, don’t course correct. Things might not be always going as well as everyone wants and when that happens managers can sometimes slip into “gotta get this fixed” mode. This type of course correction can remove many of the downstream benefits of delegation and turn into a big negative for folks. It not only disempowers, but demotivates. When things aren’t going well, the time is right for honest feedback and a two-way dialogue.
  • Communicate in the right way and at the right time, don’t slow progress. All projects have more work and less time than they need. One way to reduce the amount of time available to make forward progress is for management to call for reviews or updates in a formal manner (meetings, written reports). This type of communication can slow things down—the preparation, the review, the general stand-down while these work products are created. Find the balance between contacting the team too little and bugging them too much.
  • Above all, treat people as you would like to be treated. If you are the type of person that is eager to request and receive feedback then chances are you won’t see an eager manager as micromanaging you. But if you are the type of person that likes some elbow room and your manager is the eager provider of feedback, then that mismatch is likely to be perceived as micromanagement rather than empowering delegation.

…and be prepared to do it all virtually 

Starting a new role may require connecting with people virtually. If so: 

  • Pay attention to how you come across (clothes, appearance, background, the language you use).
  • Take time to get to know the people you are connecting with. 
  • Pace yourself – ideally, every 60 minutes speaking online should be followed by 30 minutes of reflection. Avoid the mistake of back to back virtual meetings, which can be exhausting and, as a result, undermining for someone looking to get established in a new role. 
  • Provide energy, thoughtfulness and empathy – check in with people and make sure all is well with them. 

So, question, listen, build relationships, be self-aware and set clear goals for yourself and, if appropriate, for others too. That will get you well on the way in a new leadership role.


Kourdi Associates​ ​work with current and potential leaders to develop their mindset, skills and effectiveness. Jeremy Kourdi is formerly Senior Vice President with The Economist, he has worked with London Business School and Duke Corporate Education as well as market-leading businesses worldwide, and he is the author of 27 books translated into 17 languages, including​ ​The Truth About Talent​ ​and​ ​Coaching Essentials​. ​His business​ ​Kourdi Associates​ ​provides coaches, expert content and consultants that help leaders successfully navigate a changing world.

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