April 2, 2014

How Can You Succeed in Your New Role?

Ethan Hanabury ’85

It’s a challenge that every executive faces at some point in their career: You have been promoted to a position with greater responsibilities and want to be successful, but you know that significant challenges lie ahead; according to leadership development firm Manchester, Inc., many executives transitioning to new roles fail in the first 18 months. What can you do to increase your chances for success?

I’ve coached many executives in new roles and have found that when they focus on four key areas, they enjoy greater success. Get to know these areas so that you can survive — and thrive — in your new position.

Adopt a New Mindset
In your previous role, you were probably valued as the expert or “go-to person” for one particular area. But in your new role, you may oversee a team of experts, with accountability for leading a number of different areas. To be successful, you may need to demonstrate breadth, not depth. This will require you to change your mindset from being individually responsible to overseeing a number of people or multiple areas.

To determine the mindset you’ll need to develop for your new role, consider these questions:

  • What perspectives are required in my new role?
  • How do they differ from those required in my old role?
  • What resources will I need to ensure that I’m able to adopt the right behaviors?
  • What barriers may interfere with my adopting this new mindset?

Adapt to — and Get to Know — a New Culture
A promotion typically brings you another step closer to the top of an organization — and to a new set of peers. Newly promoted executives tend to focus on their goals and the tasks at hand, sometimes forgetting that their job cannot be performed effectively without assimilating to their new culture. This requires keen observation of the norms, values, and politics of the new environment. In my experience as an executive coach, not putting in the time at the onset to adapt to a new culture is one of the most common reasons executives fail in a new role.

To determine how to adapt to a new culture, consider the following questions:

  • What is valued in this new culture?
  • How have other recently promoted executives adapted to the new culture?
  • What duties can I reprioritize or delegate in order to devote time to fostering new relationships?

Address Your Own Weaknesses
While you leveraged your strengths to be promoted, addressing your weaknesses may actually be more important in achieving success in your new role; higher positions require broader skill sets. No one will be strong in each skill that a new role requires, but a key to success is identifying your weaknesses — and compensating for them.

To address your weaknesses, consider these questions:

  • How can I identify my potential weaknesses as they relate to my new role?
  • How can I develop strategies to overcome these weaknesses?
  • How can I compensate for these weaknesses?
  • Who on my team has strengths that could help me compensate for my own weaknesses?

Ask for Help
Increasingly, organizations recognize the importance of providing support to newly promoted executives through executive education, coaching, and mentoring. Consider asking for this type of support as you begin your new role, perhaps even negotiating for it in your offer package.

Executive education can help you develop specific new skills. For example, if your new role requires you to be more influential without authority, then you might take a course on persuasion. An executive coach can help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a personalized plan to increase your chances for success.

Mastering these four areas will enable you to excel in your new role — and position yourself for future opportunities.

Ethan Hanabury ’85, former senior associate dean for degree programs at Columbia Business School, is an executive coach and organizational consultant. E-mail him at ehanabury@gmail.com.

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