I have lost count of the number of new directors, VPs and CEOs I have worked with directly or indirectly over the years. Without exception, they all approached their new responsibilities the same way—they wanted to make a big impact quickly. They don’t realize it at the time, but their very high sense of urgency resulted in them doing two things that worked against them:
Taking on way too many complicated initiatives at one time; and
Creating a perception that they are self-centered and only in it for themselves.
Regardless of how much-experienced leaders try to coach the new ones, they just don’t listen. I know because I didn’t when I first became CIO at Georgia-Pacific. I was a hurricane by immediately doing a massive re-organization called “OneIT” and also by launching a major cost-reduction initiative. The re-org affected essentially all IT team members, as did the cost reduction. We achieved both but the collateral damage was high. People were always on edge and wondering what major initiative I would implement next. The other experienced leaders in the C-suite tried their best to coach me, but I just wouldn’t listen. My “teachable moment” came when a very trusted, long-time friend told me that people didn’t like working with or for me. Reason being, it was all about me and I was burning them out with the pace I was setting. For example, I would send emails that really weren’t that critical on the weekends and very late at the night. People were compelled to respond because of my position. I was also losing my family in the process because I was driving way too hard when I really didn’t have to be.
The two lessons I learned are the same ones all new leaders have to learn as well:
Slow down to go fast: To have a long-lasting impact, focus on people coming along instead of you pulling them. For example, OneIT was the right thing to do, but I didn't have to do it all at once. I could have phased it in. Doing it all at once resulted in a significant drop in our service levels that lasted way too long.
Redefined success as having your fingerprints instead of your face on key strategic initiatives: In other words, make others successful instead of yourself. As a a result, people will give you credit instead of you giving it to yourself. The end result is people will want to work with you instead of without you.
If you know of any new leaders, please send them this blog to read. I was very fortunate that I didn’t get fired in my second or third year. I didn’t because I got the wake-up call I needed. Unfortunate for many new leaders, their sense of urgency results in them getting knocked out instead of woken up.