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Onboarding New Leaders: 5 Common Mistakes To Avoid

July 14, 2022

Onboarding New Leaders: 5 Common Mistakes To Avoid

When starting in a leadership role, knowing what mistakes to avoid can be challenging. After all, you are still learning the ropes and figuring out how everything works. Many leaders in transition get caught in the excitement of a new position, but fail to anticipate ways that they can derail.

Based on my experience as an executive coach working with newly hired leaders who nearly derailed, here's a list of some common mistakes that can easily be avoided.

1: Assuming support for their vision

Leaders are often hired based on a compelling vision they have to transform their organizations. However, implementing a vision without engaging key stakeholders and building trust can result in a failed change agenda and a damaged reputation. It is critical when onboarding new leaders to help them understand the cultural context and adapt their vision based on the vested interests of stakeholders. In essence, new leaders have to earn the right to create change by demonstrating appreciation for an organization's history.

2: Not building alignment with the boss

Perhaps the most critical relationship for a new leader is with their boss. A new leader's manager plays an instrumental role as a sponsor, helping to open doors to social networks. Therefore it is essential to build alignment with one's manager on a change agenda, key priorities, communication protocols, and authority. Alignment with one's new boss is a top priority when onboarding new leaders.

3: Setting the wrong tone

How a leader behaves from the start will strongly influence their reputation and likelihood of success in their new role. Most organizations have well-understood unwritten rules for how a new leader should balance an assertive style with a cooperative approach. The key is to enlist well-regarded mentors to determine this balance.  

4: Attempting to do too much

One of the biggest mistakes a new leader can make is trying to do too much. They often have grand plans and want to implement them all at once. However, this can be overwhelming for both the leader and their team. New leaders who burn out by attempting too much or focusing on the wrong priorities can damage their reputations. The solution is to prioritize and align with the boss on critical priorities early in their tenure. 

5: Not being visible enough

A newly hired healthcare executive, Susan had a naturally introverted style and jumped into her new role with gusto. Her comfort zone associated with this approach nearly derailed her since she largely remained in her office or the executive suite. Her direct reports assumed she didn't care about them because she made little effort to engage in person. Building trust with followers through visible, real-time interactions is vital for newly hired leaders. Susan realized this and made a point to attend department meetings in her division to discuss her vision, experience, personal interests, and appreciation for what each department had achieved before her arrival. 

Starting a new leadership role is an exciting time filled with promise and opportunity. However, it can also be fraught with the potential for derailing setbacks if the process of onboarding new leaders is not well-designed. By being conscious of five familiar sources of derailment, new leaders can prevent lapses and thrive in their new roles. 

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Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience coaching leaders who are experiencing transitions to thrive in their new or expanded roles. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2022 Kevin Nourse

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