New Leadership Role? Here’s What To Do First: by Wally Schmader

Written by on February 12, 2015

First of all, congratulations! Being asked to take over a new area of responsibility is a fantastic opportunity for a leader. The situation allows you, possibly for the first time in a long time, to look at things with fresh eyes. Everyone gets a clean slate, the people on the team and the leader herself. It’s a situation built for growth and meaningful improvement.

Preparing to lead a new team:

Step 1: Clear your mind of any current judgments, biases, and prejudices you already have about this new team. The biggest gift you can give your new team is a clean slate. This is true because the non-performers will get a fresh start and the performers will have to keep performing to impress you, the new leader.

Step 2: Make sure you understand the expectations for this transition. Why is the change being made? Why you? What do we want to happen going forward? How will the success of this transition be judged? You need to know the answers to all of these questions before you can begin planning.

Step 3: Make sure that your previous team is being cared for. What will be happening to them? Is it in their best interest? Have you made sure you have publicized their success adequately? Should someone on your former team be considered to take over for you? Have you said your “Thank You’s”? Is there something you could do to make sure their transition is successful? Remember, it was your team that got you promoted, not your boss.

Here is what you need to identify, understand, and leverage during your transition. This is the big question: Where is my upside?

Look for:

-Raw talent

-Offices, departments, or divisions trending poorly

-Market opportunities

-People who may be in the wrong role


-Coaches who know how to train

-Small segments of the business that are trending positively

These are your most obvious areas for growth. This is your low-hanging fruit.

Next question: Who on your new team will be brand-new for you?

Is this a team you’re familiar with, or are you going to be working with strangers? Brand-new people are a great opportunity for you. Your priorities, communications, and overall leadership style will be fresh with these people, and it will be easier to make an impact.

Next question: Who are the five to ten people who will determine whether this transition succeeds?

And what’s in it for them if the transition fails or succeeds? Ignore titles, tenure, and previous performance. There will be a small group of individuals who will be the reason your new team succeeds or fails. It may not be immediately obvious to you who they are. You absolutely need to figure it out before you start making any big plans.

Here are six important considerations to help you think fresh thoughts about your new leadership opportunity:

Doing things in a way your predecessor did not? Fresh approaches. New ideas. New delegations. New ways of thinking about the business you’re in. Clear expectations.

There are only three or four crucial measures for any business. It does not matter whether we’re talking about a single department or a multinational corporation. There will always be just three or four metrics that will tell what is working and what is not. What are they for you?

1.  What previous traditions or expectations should you eliminate?
These are things that run on their own inertia. This is the “way we have always done it around here” stuff. It could be reports, meetings, rankings, or social expectations. Some of these things worked at one point, but have pooped out. Some of these things never worked. The easiest way to say that a forward view is more important than history is to cut these things out liberally.

2.  Where are you going to get your growth or improvement?
This is the hardest part of the planning. There’s the hidden upside in your new area of responsibility. Your predecessor could not see it, but it’s there. The team members know where the growth opportunities are, so interviewing them will give you some instant clarity. Giving them a platform and asking their opinions will also help you earn “buy in” from your new team. After that, you will need to dig into the numbers and see what they tell you. Inevitably, your growth opportunities will surface.

3.  Where will you be firm and where will you be flexible?
This is a way of asking what’s important to you. Every leader expects to have to show her teeth occasionally, but you have to pick your moments carefully. There will be a few no-compromise areas, but it cannot be every area or you will lose leverage and credibility.

4.  Go where the response is.
This five-word recommendation can save you years of work if you really understand it. Leaders succeed and fail based on their ability to direct people’s energy and attention. Team members will not always agree on that direction. When they don’t, the leader will not get the energy and attention he needs to succeed in the project, the initiative, or the business. So go where the response is: Pay attention to who is engaged and “on board” with what you’re saying and doing. Trying to change people’s minds can be a losing proposition; it puts too much attention on the areas that are not working. Instead, focus your energy on the people who “get it.” Make sure they’re getting the attention, recognition, and resources to succeed. The others will catch on or they won’t, but they will not be the deciding factor in the enterprise.

Being a leader in a takeover role can be a high-wire act. You must premeditate every move. You will be under scrutiny from above and below, so you need to make sure the decisions you are making are an accurate reflection of your priorities and values as a leader. You can leverage these recommendations to ensure your success in your new opportunity.

Go in with high expectations, you are going to do great!

Wally Schmader is the co-author of the best selling book “What Exceptional Leaders Know”.