Starting Well in a New Executive Leadership Role: Advice from a Seasoned Division Executive

Stepping into any new leadership role can be a challenge, but especially so if it involves moving from a manager role to a leadership position that involves oversight of multiple managers and functions. In discussing this recently with a seasoned executive who is responsible for a division of a large, publicly held company, he gave the advice outlined below. He indicated that in his years developing the leaders, these three issues emerge repetitively. He encouraged new executives to use these three things as a starting point in order to save themselves a great deal of heartache later on.

Manage Your Time

  1. If the new executive has been in a Director’s role prior to their promotion, it is important that they quickly recognize the difference in the roles. The Director position is oriented more toward service than toward management and organizational leadership. The new executive will do well to recognize this quickly and adjust their time and priority management practices accordingly.
  2. E.g. A Controller is expected to assist other departments with understanding their financial statements, Departmental Operations Reports, etc. In their efforts to become a “good” leader, many transitioning, first time CFO’s implement a 24/7 “Open Door” policy. Additionally, when a problem arises they quickly accept the “monkey” that gets passed to them, working to resolve it themselves. As a result many new executives become overwhelmed, and resort to working long hours trying to get their portion of the job done, all of which ends up affecting personal and home life.
  3. Here are a couple of things that have helped new executives be more effective: First, find ways to create blocks of time where you can work on projects without interruption. Many have found that arriving early and blocking the morning is best. Then they can keep the afternoon open and more flexible to interact with their department leaders and others in the hospital. Second, when a problem is brought to you by a department head or someone else, it is important that you see yourself more as a developer of people, than an expert problem solver. The question that must be asked is, “Is this a monkey that I should take on?” or “Is this an opportunity for me to teach and help someone else become a better problem solver?’ More often than not, giving it back to them, while teaching them new skills or perspectives, will be a better solution for both of you in the long run.

Establish Priorities

  1. You can’t do it all of it at once. You must establish priorities, break down the work, plan the work, and work the plan.
  2. One idea is to list out the top 25 projects that need to be performed in your new role, rank them and then focus on the top 5 without putting effort into 6 through 25.
  3. Once #1 is completed, #6 moves to #5 and so on.

Establish Performance Standards and Evaluate Staff early in your Transition

  1. This may be the most important and the most difficult skill to develop and implement. Many leaders, new and older, get into hot water because they fail to do these two things and do them early on in their transition
  2. This may well be Priority 1, because having, or failing to address a poor performer on your team will create more problems than solutions. It’s not fair to you, the team member or others in the organization if they are continue to perform below expectation.
  3. It is important to establish the new performance standards early on. Then set the expectations with the employee and give them an action plan to improve their performance. If they cannot perform the job, determine if they are suited to be in another part of the organization.
  4. If not, then it is better that they move on. Termination is never to be taken lightly and respect should be shown through the entire process. However, in the long run, building the right team and establishing the right performance standards in the organization can and will take the organization to another level.

He concludes by saying what you all may have been thinking as you read this. “This is not rocket science.” He also said that in his experience, these are the three most overlooked strategies by new executives. They become more difficult to implement after the new leader is well into their new role, and if neglected, often lead to derailment.

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