Leading at a Higher level
Leadership done well has an ascendant quality.
Often the reward for doing a good job is getting to do more.
That’s ok, especially if you love what you do.
It’s an opportunity for the leader with the right motives and vision to have a more significant influence and an impact that ultimately helps more people.
Here’s the thing.
Each time you gain altitude with your leadership, you have to figure out how to do more, and do it better, all while steering the ship and responsibly guiding the activities of an increasing number of co-workers.
The adage “what got you here won’t get you there!” rings truer than ever.
For most organizations, replacing the CEO can be a high-stakes gamble.
Unfortunately, not every transition works out, and the failure rate is steep. (up to 46%)
In situations like this, high-altitude adjustment training becomes necessary for newer CEOs or Senior Execs.
Much like living and working at a high altitude requires preparation, the same is true for a CEO or senior executive elevated to a new role.
The Altitude Factor
There’s a simple reason that Kenyan and Ethiopian runners dominate world records in marathon running.
They live, work and train at high altitudes year round. So when they compete against elite athletes from lower climes, they have a distinct advantage.
Professional sports teams coming into mile-high Denver, Colorado, deliberately schedule an advance acclimation period before match-ups. Without this prep time, they risk getting trounced by the local teams, who have an altitude advantage.
What Happens in Times of Transition
Hardly anything that happens at an organization is more important than a high-level executive transition.
It’s a given that the new leader’s actions or inaction will significantly influence the course of the business, for better or for worse, for years to come.
Nearly 50% of new CEOs I’ve worked with expressed a distinct “not what I expected!” response early on.
Everyone, regardless of experience, finds transition into a senior role challenging. The disconnect between the expectation and the reality of being a CEO could contribute to a disappointing 27-47 % failure rate in the first two years. (Source – McKinsey White-paper Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles)
Quite often, an accumulated backlog of C-level work got deferred during the search and transition period. So it is understandable that some plans get put on hold until the new leader and their team is in place. Adding to the backlog are avoidable issues like lengthy reports, poorly designed meetings, presentations, and a tendency for trivial decisions to be referred upwards.
Overwhelm and the “Too Busy” Trap
Overwhelm is a predictable outcome of the work backlog. The new CEO often feels pressured to do a lot in a compressed timeframe simply because there’s a lot to do, and all eyes are on them. Connecting and interacting has never been easier. While technology has helped us do many things more efficiently, it hasn’t helped us become more effective. It certainly hasn’t slowed down the pace. If anything, the opposite.
There seem to be endless meetings, and we wind up drowning in real-time virtual technology. There’s Zoom, Slack, Teams, group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Loom.
The downside is that actual productivity and value creation get sacrificed in the arena of frequent and low-quality virtual interactions.
Expectations Run High
Leadership is all about managing expectations: Both personally and that of others.
The new leader’s goals and ambitions must be realistic and appropriate to the circumstances. If they are unrealistic, they will be perpetually stressed and self-critical.
If the timeline for reaching initial goals is unrealistic, consider adjustments that make things more realistic.
Disappointed expectations often stem from flawed assumptions.
It’s crucial for the new leader to constantly check alignment of expectations and assumptions with colleagues, stakeholders, board and staff alike.
Trust and Confidence are Fragile
Winning trust in the early going is key.
Leaders who can foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s going on earn respect and trust.
Trust is that “salt of the earth” quality that, over time, can win approval and support from even the most oppositional people. And of course, there will always be those who oppose change.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a senior leadership transition is more of a process than an event.
Crafting a “Framework for Action” with an accountability structure that addresses all of the above factors is the best way to approach transition.
Having an experienced advisor along side to guide the process gets the new leader established and the whole organization can enjoy the long term benefits.
Until next time…..
Here to help.