Onboarding New Leaders

October 8, 2012 by Ken Nowack

“You can observe a lot just by watching.”
Yogi Berra

Onboarding new and potential leaders for success is important.

About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.

Right now, we are grooming a new leader.  His name is Indy and he is a 6-week guide dog in training owned by Guide Dogs of America.  He is our 5th guide dog puppy we have raised and we will have the ability to shape his leadership skills for about 18 months.

Here are some onboarding lessons we have learned from our previous guide dog puppies and what we are applying to Indy.

Onboard Lesson 1: Effective Leaders Get to Know Critical Stakeholders

Effective leaders learn quickly to identify the political “movers and shakers” and key stakeholders within and outside the organization.  New leaders should systematically be introduced to these key stakeholders and take the initiative in their first 90 days to establish rapport and a working knowledge of the key needs of these individuals.

Develop a plan to understand the stakeholder’s expectations of you and how you can support their performance.  Take a personal interest in them and tune into special details about their likes, dislikes, and even family relations.

We are planning on introducing Indy to all of our favortite vendors and restaurant owners that have been so gracious over the years to support our work with the guide dog puppy raising program (special shout out to La Vecchia and their great staff over the years).

Onboard Lesson 2: Effective Leaders Play Well With Others

Talent today don’t leave bad organizations, they leave bad leaders who are competent jerks.  Most failures of leaders are primarily due to overuse of one’s strengths and interpersonal deficits.  Understanding one’s own personality (bright side assests and dark side liabilities) will enable new leaders to foster positive relationships and nurture interpersonal trust.

Playing well with others also involves starting to create a new team identity.  It starts with understanding and attempting to deploy the signature strengths  of each direct report on one’s team.  It also involves truly listening and understanding the team culture for the first 90 days without making too many significant changes or decisions that impact the organization unless you have a direct mandate to do so.

We have already begun puppy training for Indy–a lot of his learning is how to interact with other puppies.  Truly learning to play well with others will allow him to become a great guide dog in the future.

Onboard Lesson 3: Effective Leaders Create a 90 Day Action Plan

Behavior change is very difficult for most of us.  Starting new behaviors and maintaining it over time requires a different set of motives and skills.

Effective leaders should create both an organizational and personal plan of goals and activities to support these goals for 90 days.

Creating and espousing a vision without action is a waste of time and will diminish the credibility of new leaders.  Demonstrating a connection between a vision and concrete actions and successes in the first 90 days is one of the most important metrics that new leaders are judged on.

Each month Indy will be going to our “guide dog” support group and training and it is during this time we have to demonstrate the 90 day core skills we are building with him (e.g., the basic commands needed to be a service dog in the future).  We have some carefully mapped out exercises and activities that are age (maturity) dependent to social Indy to new sights and sounds and focus on deliberate practice of new skills until they become automatic.

Onboard Lesson 4: Effective Leaders Truly Manage Energy and Not Time

The most effective leaders understand that they don’t have enough time but, they have all the time that there is.

Effective leaders make sure to renew their energy and not run it down so they can be at the top of their game each day. Here are some behaviors that appear to differentiate the most effective leaders who manage their energy:

  • Develop Secondary Passions
  • Manage Energy and Not Time
  • Use Short-Term Goals to Accomplish Long Term Success
  • Seek Ongoing and Candid Feedback
  • Deliberate Practice Over 10 Years Makes You Better
  • Use “Ultradian Sprints” of no longer than 90 minutes to Minimize Interruptions
  • Compete with the Very Best to Get Better
  • Utilize a Balanced Success Scorecard with specific goals for enhancing relationships, happiness, achievements at work/life and their legacy/life meaning

Well, Indy is just waking up from one of his renewal naps so you probably can guess what I need to do now!

Stayed tuned for more leadership lessons with Indy….Be well….

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development

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