The One Universal Fact about Why New Leaders Fail
Written by Glenn Maul, Managing Partner
News flash! 50-70% of newly promoted Executives fail at their new role in the first 18 months. Google it –you will find data like that from numerous validated sources. My source was Marshall Goldsmith, the noted leadership thinker and New York Times best selling author.
There are many reasons why this happens with new executives: they are promoted beyond their capacity, received little or no training for the new role, had serious leadership flaws that surfaced when trying to lead higher-level talent, leaning on the skills that got them there instead of learning new skills so they can lead more and manage less, etc……
There is one reason that I have found that stands out more than any other, though. I know this to be a fact from dozens and dozens of people I have mentored, coached, or lead over my 30+ year career focused on the Talent elements of business. This reason is the failure to form an opinion, or the failure to express and stand behind the opinion. Being able to form, express, and socialize an opinion is a critical component of executive presence.
Whether you are a Managing Director in a professional services firm, or a General Manager in hospitality, a VP in a corporate environment, your peers and executive leadership want to hear what you have to say. To put it bluntly, at that level you are paid to have and express an opinion.
Tony Randall, so famous for his role in “The Odd Couple”, had a favorite saying: “There’s only one thing worse than a man (or woman) who doesn’t have strong likes and dislikes (read opinions), and that’s a man (or woman) who has strong likes and dislikes without the courage to voice them.” Someone I worked closely with sent me this quote when Tony Randall passed in 2004, with a note that said “this really reminds me of you. You have an opinion about everything”. I think it was a compliment, but I often wondered as Lord knows, I always did have and express an opinion.
So, the key to having and expressing opinions is fairly simple to learn. As a new executive, when you are in meetings where you are not a principal, still formulate an opinion about what you are hearing. The risk of not doing so is that someone may unexpectedly ask what you think. That way, you are always prepared.
A great way to get your “sea legs” as a new executive, is to formulate your opinion, then find two-three people you can trust (mentors, highly respected people) and ask them what they thought of the meeting, what they walked away with, and then use that to evaluate your own opinion. As you get more confident, try challenging that trusted colleague’s opinion when you disagree. It will give you practice in a safe environment.
A couple of keys to be effective at this skill: 1) don’t just formulate an opinion without any substantiation–gather your facts as to why you think that way; and as Kenny Rogers says in his song “The Gambler”, 2) you’ve got to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em”.
I have seen so many people form an opinion, and then blindly defend it, because they have an overwhelming need to be the smartest person in the room and to always be right. I worked with one executive who often was clearly not right, but he was the only one in the room who didn’t realize he was off-base. It is a fatal flaw of egocentric people, equally as bad as not having an opinion.
Other executives, especially newly promoted ones, have this fear of challenging the boss or others at higher levels. There is a way to do it without offending them. If you keep emotion out of it, state your opinion with the data you are using to support it, higher level executives will respect you tremendously.
Lesson here: have an opinion, make it fact-based, be willing to change when new information is presented, and stand behind it when you feel strongly about something.
At The Maul Group, I often coach new leaders on Executive presence. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.