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A lot has been written about how to make a good start in a new leadership role by focusing on your approach during the first 90-days. I endorse this approach for my clients and often recommend the book The First Ninety Days. This book focuses on forming strong relationships and following the right strategy.

But there’s something else very special about that initial period in a new role, particularly when it is in a new organization. Your first days in your new role are also the best time to make a leadership development leap. Why?

New patterns form most easily without the influence of the old patterns.

A few years back I had a client who came to me with the most out-of-balance leadership traits I had ever seen. He relished enforcing rules for his team and saw no need at all for warmth or empathy. He valued direct communication and devalued tact and diplomacy. He saw his role as taking responsibility for all decisions and saw collaboration as a weakness. This harsh, blunt and authoritarian manager was nonetheless very eager to learn. When he realized that he had been seeing leadership through an over-simplified lens, he was determined to change. He started reading more progressive literature about leadership and he was inspired. But how could he change when he had been relatively successful using that very hierarchical style in his current workplace?

His team members were obedient and accustomed to being able to blindly follow orders without thinking too much. How could he change them as well as himself? His weaknesses were embedded in his colleagues’ behaviour in largely unconscious ways. He would need to re-educate and even awaken them, as well as himself. And that change would put his current success at risk.

By a stroke of good luck, he received an opportunity for a short-term role in another team in another country! He moved from Hong Kong to Korea to begin his leadership change adventure. And there, the forced fresh start of a new team in an unfamiliar culture was the perfect opportunity for him to begin a completely new way of leading.

Although his case was quite extreme, it is true for all of us that the context in which we operate tends to hold us in our current patterns. The people around you have learned to work with you the way you are. If you change, you will need to change them too, and they may or may not want to cooperate! When you move into a new role, you avoid this limitation on your growth and you have a rare opportunity to change your approach.

Your leadership is not separate from your context.

In contrast to the advantage of being seen with fresh eyes in a new role, is the risk of the unknown context you are entering. As a leader, the culture, system and unique arrangement of roles and personalities that you are entering is not a side issue, it is your work. Your leadership results depend on how you interact within this context which cannot be fully understood until you enter the system.

Your entry is, for better or worse, a destabilizing force on the system. You can use this unlocking of fixed patterns to your advantage, if you are sufficiently aware and fit for the challenge.

Your most important work in the first 90-days of a leadership role is to understand the system in your new organization. The more accurate you are, the more successful your transition will be. And yet, you cannot blindly trust those you meet to be showing their true faces. The clues are likely to be subtle. Giving yourself time to tap into your intuition about people and groups will be most valuable. Now is the time to implement all your leadership learning related to communications, building trust and setting expectations while being confident and open.

How can you make sure your new role supports a developmental leap in your leadership?

Learn from your past role.

As you leave your last role, there is a special opportunity to gather feedback from your colleagues while they are unencumbered by your working relationship and therefore able to answer you more honestly than they would inside an organizational setting. Asking for feedback is a way to show respect to those you are leaving behind. And the perspectives they have about the strengths and weaknesses you revealed can be invaluable.

Even if you don’t have specific feedback to work with, get yourself very clear about the strengths and weaknesses that you carried with you in your last role so that you can make a conscious effort to make the right adjustments as you enter the new role. If possible, articulate to yourself and your supporters the specific leap you want to make in your leadership approach.

Step into your new leadership confidence immediately.

Your next level of leadership calls for more grounded confidence. Bring this with you on your first day and throughout your first few weeks at work! You want to be both sure of yourself (confident) and also open to the unexpected and the unknown. You can stand still and strong even as the ground beneath you sways. You can touch into your inner safety at any time. You can stay present to what’s going on even as your mind rushes or your heart beats strongly.

You are setting a first impression with a lot of people who will be important supporters, or otherwise. And they (mostly) want to like you and trust you. Your grounded confidence is what all your other leadership skills are based on. It shows you as someone who can be trusted for your competence and reliability, and crucially for your mutual respect, understanding and alignment of values and purpose.

Of course it can happen to anyone that they get nervous on the first few days or for certain meetings. You can’t always know when this is going to happen, but you can practice dealing with nerves or anxiety so that you can stay present with yourself and others regardless of your body’s reactions. You can also set yourself up for success by being deliberate about strengthening your base, both internally and in the social environment you are entering.

Learn about yourself as well as your new organization.

The advice in The First Ninety Days is to focus initially on learning about your new organization before you make any big decisions. I agree with this approach and add that it is also an excellent time to learn about yourself. By keeping close attention to your bodily and emotional reactions as you meet all those new people and situations, you can learn much more quickly about who or what to trust and who or what to change. And that includes learning about what you may choose to trust or change about yourself.

Recently one of my clients started a new role in a new company. Within the first week she realized that if she didn’t do things differently, she would fall into the same ineffective patterns of communication that she had experienced in previous roles. This time she could see how her own communication style needed to change. And luckily I was able to offer her a communications framework that she could start practicing immediately in order to be more clear and kind. Her self-awareness was the key to this rapid learning which would make a significant improvement to her leadership effectiveness.

Set new habits that hold your new leadership lifestyle.

Leadership is a lifestyle because you cannot perform your role effectively without generating healthy energy and handling the pressure with poise. This means you need a well-rested and energized body, and a strong family (or friend) support system. You also need a habit-structure that supports your strategic thinking, focus and personal reflection.

Since it’s likely that your new job will change your commute, it is a good time to enhance your habits starting with what is most important. Your check list should include diet, exercise, rest, family, daily reflection and weekly strategic thinking.  Build on your existing good habits as much as possible and be deliberate in guarding the time you need for health and reflection.

Use a leadership coach to accompany you through the transition

If you’re ever going to invest in personal leadership development support, a career transition is a prime time for maximizing the benefit. A coach is a thinking (and feeling) partner to leverage your reflection time with a wise perspective. Your coach is a champion for you to be at your best and an accountability partner to affirm and support the changes you choose to make. All the tips above are much easier to implement with the support of a coach.

Make the most of this special time of transition and you can emerge as a leader who is able to navigate the complexities of your new role with ease and joy.