10 Tips When Onboarding to a New Leadership Position

I was recently visiting with a potential client, and at the close of our conversation, I asked her if there was something I could do to help her. She indicated that there were so many new leaders entering their organization that she wished she had a list of principles or concepts that she could give to them that would help them assimilate and become effective as quickly as possible.

Because changing leadership often brings challenges, I would suggest 10 best practices to strengthen your leadership capacity and improve the quality and speed of your results.

1. Clarify the Expectations of Your Manager.Knowing what your manager expects and how those expectations contribute to the desired results will help you align your expectations and your team’s. This will insure that everyone clearly understands how their assigned tasks contribute to the organization’s goals. Because leaders are often afraid to tell their subordinates that they are not meeting their expectations, pushing for clarity keeps you from having to read your manager’s mind and forces the manager to be clear about what they want.

2. Don’t Come in “Hot.”If you have been hired to take on a leadership role, you were likely hired because of your experience, knowledge, and skills.  You may assume that the people you have been hired to lead aren’t capable, aren’t motivated, or aren’t good performers. This perception has likely been reinforced if the hiring manager has told you negative things about the team and the work that you are inheriting. Such a mindset may lead you to treat people in a patronizing and demeaning way. Taking the approach that you have to fix everything because no one else can is a recipe for disaster.

3. Establish Rapport.If you are new to the company or this group, it’s important to remember that likely no one knows you. Take the time to tell your story--be sure and relate your past experience, what contributed to your success, what you believe about working with people, and your purpose and vision for working with this team. Be sure and take time to learn about others, their expertise, their successes and struggles, and how they see the current challenges in achieving the desired outcomes.

4. Hold a Culture Conversation. This activity could be easily listed as a rapport-building activity because it establishes value for the individuals and their contributions. Ask questions about what people are supposed to do, what they actually do, and how they do what they do. You might also ask them to share their perspective by asking, “What is currently working? What is not working? What is your greatest pain or frustration?” And, “What could be done to improve the current challenges?” This conversation will provide you with important information while gaining the trust of your team and showing you value their expertise.

5. Don’t Hook Your Wagon to a Single Leader. Often when a new person is hired they isolate themselves by aligning their views solely with their manager. This usually results in the new leader adopting the same current attitudes and conclusions that their leader holds, likely leading to a limited view of the work at hand and your team. By identifying and networking with a number of different, effective leaders, you will gain a wider perspective and build valuable relationships and support for what you are trying to accomplish and achieve.   

6. Clarify Your Intention. If your intention is to make yourself look good or prove that you are the star, then you will likely shine the spotlight on yourself to the exclusion of others. Highlight what you are trying to achieve and deliberately spotlight the members of your team for their successes. In doing so, they will make you the star. People want to do great work.  As their leader you can help them unleash their ability to do their best work.

7. Communicate Clearly and Often. Ask a lot of questions and really listen to what people are telling you. People will often withhold what they truly think until they are assured that you sincerely want to hear their answers. If they respond in a way that is negative or emotional, ask more questions. Hidden behind the negativity and emotions is what is important to the individual. You must listen past complaints and negativity to what is in the hearts and minds of the people.

8. Build Your Credibility. Be candid, honest, and transparent. If you don’t know something, acknowledge it and then find the answer. Recognize mistakes and focus on learning and improving, setting the example for everyone to do the same. Keep your commitments, support others in their challenges, provide clear and accurate feedback, coach and mentor when needed, and acknowledge and celebrate people’s efforts and successes. 

9. Check People’s Alignment.Alignment is determined by asking the following three questions: 1) How aligned are you with the expectations and goals for your work?        2) How aligned are you with what we do here? And, 3) How aligned are you with how we do the work? You might follow each of these questions with this question: “On a scale of 1 to 10 how aligned are you with…?” If the individual’s assessment comes in lower than a “6”, then you might ask, “Why?” and, “What would it take to bring you up to a 10?” Taking the time to understand why a person’s perception of expectations, execution, and process may be less than desirable will tell you a lot about why your team gets the results that they do. Remember that we are perfectly positioned to get the results that we do. The challenge is to figure how our positioning yields our results.

10. Expect to be Interpreted Negatively. When a new leader arrives on the scene, it isn’t uncommon for people to interpret what they do or say negatively.  Change is often difficult for people. When they don’t have all the facts, it is natural for them to take things personally and assume the worst. Recognize that tendency and deliberately think through and plan your actions and messaging. To help prevent negative conclusions, communicate clearly and often and share positive perspectives of anything that you undertake.

Beginning a new job as a leader with a new team and new challenges may seem overwhelming at first. Taking the time to apply these tips will increase your understanding of the current challenges, engage your people, and increase the quality and effectiveness of your leadership.


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