Congratulations! You’ve landed the big job you’ve been wanting. Now the real work begins.
Starting any new role can be intimidating, but this can be exacerbated when the person who held it before you left big shoes to fill. Perhaps that person was an absolute rockstar at their job or maybe they had been there forever and were a total legend or maybe they had a big personality that everyone loved.
So how can you step into this role gracefully, successfully and pick up where they left off in a way that makes an impact while feeling authentic to you?
Here are some tips to get you started:
Remember, you have to be you.
It’s tempting to constantly compare yourself to your predecessor and assume any delta in your performance or approach is a shortcoming. But that’s simply not the case! Don’t try to mimic their style; enhance yours! Take the time to really understand your strengths and leadership style and lean into them.
Separate competence from experience.
Know that just because you don’t have the same historical knowledge doesn’t mean you don’t have the same capabilities. I’ve seen this become crippling for new leaders, especially in industries where deep expertise and years of experience are valuable. It’s easy to make the mental leap from, “Wow they know so much” to “I’ll never be as good as them.” This is also challenging when you’re stepping into a role where your direct reports have more subject matter expertise than you do. You were hired or promoted for a reason. You bring critical thinking, innovation, and new context to the role. The subject matter can and will be learned in time, and I guarantee your predecessor didn’t know much more in their first week and months either.
Be a quick study.
Part of your 90-day plan should be to figure out the gaps in your knowledge and craft a roadmap to learn what you don’t. This could be everything from acronyms to stakeholders and contacts to new technology. Build relationships with people who can help you gain the knowledge you need, and don’t let your ego prevent you from asking questions. Find someone you trust to ask the “silly” stuff.
Resist the urge to come in and shake everything up.
A new leader can bring new ideas, new solutions, and new energy to the team which can really reinvigorate a group. And also, coming in and changing a bunch of stuff all at once with little context can feel disrespectful. It can send the message that you know best or better without taking the time to first learn. When you initially step into your role, be patient. Of course, add value and solve problems where you can, but spend most of your early days asking questions and learning what people are doing. Be a fly on the wall before implementing new stuff. If you have direct reports, take the time to meet with each person and gain context and feedback including insights on what was working well and what could be better. Then, formulate your plans for the future. These will be shaped by context and empathy after having gotten to really understand the needs of the team.
Build a relationship with your predecessor (if it’s appropriate).
Of course, there will be circumstances where this might not be appropriate, and in that case, skip to the next tip as a proxy. But in the event this person retired or moved up in the company or even left for a different company, reach out to them! How wonderful to get to have a sounding board in someone who knows your role better than anyone else. Be respectful of their time (learning is still your responsibility), but draw from their wisdom to help you navigate these new waters… even when they’re not new anymore.
Connect with your new peers.
Tap into LinkedIn, professional associations, or networking groups to find peers to connect with. There is so much to be learned from others in your role at various organizations: what they’re doing, what they’re buying, and who they’re hiring. Try to specifically seek out folks who are not just in your department but at your seniority. They will understand the upward and downward pressures you’re facing.
Get a coach.
From understanding what your authentic leadership style even is to navigating those tricky workplace relationships, your coach is your lifeline. Leadership coaching helps you gain self-awareness, make big decisions and stay accountable to goals. Even the most elite athletes have coaches, and you deserve one for your craft too. If you can, negotiate this as part of your promotion or new hire package so that your employer sponsors it.
This is an exciting time and a wonderful opportunity for you. You get to shape the future of the team, not try to shape yourself to fit the past. If you bring humility, a growth mindset, and a hunger for connection you’ll be well on your way to success.