The #1 “Killer” of New Leaders: Failure to Achieve and Maintain Role Clarity

23269069_mIt should be simple: Company hires a great candidate, and its New Leader comes in and does a fantastic job without stumbling or making a wrong turn, delighting key stakeholders and performing at a high level.

Now for reality: New Leaders struggle, often mightily, to become effective in their new roles. They all too frequently fail, and then pay a high personal and professional price. The employer is out hundreds of thousands of dollars (even millions, for certain key hires). And the team endures mis-steps and setbacks, moving more slowly and less effectively than needed.
Our client research indicates that the #1 predictor of New Leader derailment is the failure to establish and maintain role clarity. Here's what's sad -- that failure could have been avoided. Most often when a New Leader fails in a role it is not about "fit," it is about them not being aligned properly in their role.

Lack of Role Clarity Can Take Many Forms:
  • The role fundamentally changes between hire and start date, and is either not recognized or communicated.
  • Hiring Manager expectations are unrealistically high, and the New Leader doesn't "rightsize" them.
  • Different important others have too many, inappropriate, or contradictory expectations, and the New Leader fails to bring them into alignment.
 There are a Number of Potential Barriers to Role Clarity:
  • A failure to create a realistic understanding of the role through the selection process (sometimes, unfortunately, this is an intentional act).
  • Changing circumstances demand an evolution of the understanding of the role.
  • A New Leader may fail to identify key stakeholders and their needs/expectations.
  • Organizational changes can lead to restructuring and a new funding model, without changing expectations for deliverables.
How can a New Leader Establish and Maintain Role Clarity?
  • Recognize that every role ends up being different than communicated in the selection process, and accept that adaptation will be key to future success.
  • Ask the Hiring Manager about expectations and deliverables -- frequently.
  • "Ride the circuit" with key stakeholders, and explicitly request their understanding of the role as well as their operation's expectations.
  • Listen for disconnects and evidence that others' understanding of the role role isn't as you expected.
  • Get feedback -- both formally (using a tool such as Culture Snapshot or LevelSet: Early Feedback) and informally, to learn how others perceive your operation as well as your transition efforts.

In short, New Leaders need to understand that they don't have fixed job descriptions -- that their roles continually evolve and they must readily adapt. Priorities and expectations will be in conflict, and New Leaders must recognize the contradictions and manage them. Strong relationships and frequent communication will help New Leaders stay aware of others' expectations and gain crucial feedback and knowledge.

And while New Leaders need support from others in order to establish and maintain role clarity, it is ultimately their own fundamental responsibility. Why leave it to chance?

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Posted in How to Truly Understand Your New Role and Operation, Leader OnBoarding and Getting It, Mitigating the Risk of New Leader Transition, OnBoarding as Risk Management.