As a leader — either new to the company or new to the role — what’s THE most important thing you can do to position yourself for success?

Tactics will only get you so far. Rather, it’s the quality of your presence that can dramatically impact your performance, particularly within the first 90 days of your new leadership role. In my opinion and experience, the best way to be successful in your new position is to pay attention — exquisitely, impeccably and continuously.

success in new leadership role

Think about it: When you begin in your new leadership role, you’re in a situation that is partly or completely new to you. There’s no automatic pilot. No routine. You don’t know the players and the landscape.

You are gifted — as a human being — with the ability to observe, to notice, to take in sensory input, to draw conclusions. Harness that ability! It’s your key to success as a leader in a new role. 

Dangerous Mindsets to Avoid

Don’t inadvertently sabotage your ability to pay attention in a fully present, objective way. Your thoughts and moods – conscious or not — drive the quality of your presence, as well as your energy, body language and actions. Negative “stuff” will leak through the best professional mask.

These four common mindsets are guaranteed to clutter your mind and cause you to miss the majority of what’s going on around you:

1. “I know” mindset: You think you know more than the people who work there. You think you’ve been brought in to fix, rescue or save. Even if your job is, in fact, to turn around an underperforming group, that doesn’t mean that it’s all bad or completely dysfunctional. Your attitude will communicate arrogance and will not generate the respect that you need. As well, you’re going to miss what is actually working well that should, perhaps, be built upon.

leader taking over

2. “I will impress you” mindset: If your attention is on how to make yourself look good or impress others, then you might as well not be there. You’re in your head, not in the room. Instead of others being impressed, they will simply notice you trying too hard, and then they’ll wonder — what’s with him? What’s he trying to cover up?

3. “I’m scared out of my gourd” mindset: If all your thoughts are geared around how everyone is going to find out how much you don’t know and how you should never have been selected for this role, then that’s exactly what people are going to see. Out of fear, you will avoid opportunities to speak up and contribute. Your body language will scream “I’m not ready.” People will lose confidence in you before they have a “real” reason to do so.

4. “Who’s important here?” mindset: If you come in with an agenda to quickly identify the most powerful people and visibly align yourself with them, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run. As a newbie, you need to be able to talk with everyone and glean useful information from them. By prioritizing the powerful people, you’re sending a clear message to everyone else that you don’t need them. Good luck getting their cooperation later when the powerful folks send you out in the organization to “learn what’s going on out there.”

Paying Attention: What to Notice

As you tune into the nuances of your (new) environment, what do you see, hear and experience? Paying attention to this data will provide you with invaluable insights as you find — and establish — your place, your role and your reputation in this position.

lens of curiosity

Pay attention through a lens of curiosity. Particularly when you’re in a new role, try to resist the temptation to come to quick conclusions. Try to take an objective, detective mindset. Observe. Take notes. Look for patterns.

What kinds of things can you notice? Each of these areas can provide clues about the culture, the players and the “rules.”

Language — The words people use when they describe situations, key stakeholders, clients can reveal a lot about a company culture. Is this a “we/our” culture, or a “me/my” environment? Is there a bias for ideas or for action? Short-term fixes or systemic thinking?

Participation/inclusion — Who’s present (or not) in both formal meetings and informal conversations? Do you notice a lot of sidebar discussions? Cliques? Who is spoken of, and in what ways; who is not spoken of?

Processes — What formal and informal processes are in place? Are meetings held at regular intervals? Is attendance mandatory? Is participation expected? Are people prepared?

Time — How do people view, use and respect time? Is punctuality the norm, or is time considered more flexible? Are meetings held to scheduled times? Do they start late or maybe run long?

Cultural norms — How do people generally interact with one another? Is the culture direct, overtly political, inclusive or avoidant? Does there seem to be a predominant emotional tone, such as optimism, impulsivity or caution?

corporate culture norms

Physical environment — Take a look at the structures around you. Are common work areas kept clean? Are most people’s desks relatively organized or cluttered? Is the environment professional, warm, inviting or whimsical? How do people personalize their workspaces … with photos of their dog/kids/partner or with nondescript, uniform office supplies?

A Present Mindset Leads to Future Success

The most powerful mindset that you can adopt — the one that will help you pay attention and be present — is one of curiosity and learning.

When you pay attention with a present mindset — suspending judgment, observing, noticing, gathering data — you are more likely to be fully engaged as you interact with others. That goes a long way towards developing an early favorable impression with your new stakeholders and colleagues (and you weren’t even trying!).

listening with an open mind

When you are fully present, you’re not preoccupied with your own insecurities or distracted by other “mental clutter.” Your new colleagues will experience you as being alert, interested, curious, and open to what they are saying.

You assume nothing, you absorb everything. You treat each conversation as if it’s the most important one you’ve had yet in this role. You take in all information — while applying the proverbial grain of salt — until you can triangulate what you’re hearing and observing from multiple sources. You listen more than you speak. You ask real questions — not just self-serving ones — that are open-ended and invite richly detailed answers. You learn, learn, learn, learn.

Related: Listening From Multiple Perspectives: An Essential Leadership Skill

As a result, you avoid political landmines. You’re able to identify the influencers — and the detractors. You see where others are focusing their attention and you begin to understand their agendas, what’s at stake for them. You develop the insights that will allow you to lead with greater impact and influence — not just within the first 90 days of your new role, but throughout your tenure at the helm.

Honing your inner game will drive your performance to new levels. Step one involves developing an awareness around your thoughts, moods and perspectives. Our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshops will help you explore the ways you might be standing in your own way, train you to break nonproductive patterns and facilitate success. The transformation is real, and the results can be game-changing.