Congratulations! You just got promoted. You landed a new stretch assignment. You got a new job!
Just this month I witnessed three competent, hard-working, well-intentioned leaders get fired from their roles within 12 months. Based on my own experience of challenges and failures in a new role and observing many smart and competent leaders derail, there is usually one main culprit.
It’s called your blind spot. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Blind spots are even more precarious in these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times we work in. As the world changes rapidly, we need to value asking good questions rather than knowing all the answers. Yet, this may be hard to do, especially in a new role when you may be trying to prove yourself and look good.
Leading effectively in VUCA workplaces calls for us to develop new capacities. New assignments are a great way to do that. They call for us to actively learn about our defaults, uncover blind spots, and proactively question our assumptions.
In that context here are five questions to ask as you take on a new role. As you jump in to a new role, create a deliberate learning plan by asking these questions.
What are the assumptions I am making about the team, organization, industry? In a new role, especially if we’re moving fast, we often bring old assumptions about success. This is a great question to step back and understand the context within which you’re operating. You may want to understand what’s important to the team and organization, not just goals and results but aspirations and fears. What is unsaid? What are you noticing in body language and how people relate to one another? What is the culture here? Who gets rewarded for what? What’s happening with competition and industry? Who are unlikely competitors? Who are possible collaborators? Create a deliberate learning plan for yourself.
What are the assumptions I am making about this role? You may be making assumptions about what success looks like in a role. You may be bringing your old assumptions about how work gets done (the organization’s decision-making process). You may be making assumptions about the organization’s appetite for change. You may be making assumptions about the level of power and authority in your role. Write down some of these assumptions and then pay attention to what’s happening around you to validate or invalidate these assumptions. This requires slowing down and paying attention.
Who are important stakeholders in this new role? What do I need to learn from each of them? Establishing trusted relationships within a new team or culture is critical to success. Many high-achievers dive quickly into the work that needs to be done and go about getting the work done. Yet, it is the relationships we invest in that will determine what our impact will be. Who are new stakeholders to consider? Who are truth tellers that I can reach out to? What is at stake for each of them? How can I learn from and influence them? What does success look like to them? What do they need from me? How do they see my role?
What new capacities will be critical for success in this role? What strengths can be potential derailers? We all have leadership defaults (our preferred way of leading). We assume what got us this role will help us be successful in the future. Yet, some of our biggest derailers are using our habitual strengths in situations that call for a different behavior. New roles are a great way to grow your leadership tool-kit and be more intentional in practicing new leadership behaviors.
What other questions should I be asking to stay in learning mode? As the environment constantly shifts, it’s important to stay in learning mode, get adept at asking good questions, and creating a safe space for others to do the same. A transformative way to approach an issue is to brainstorm questions about the issue, rather than just answers or solutions. It opens up a space for broader thinking and perspectives.
The next step is to develop a learning plan for yourself in a new role. Note critical questions and journal your observations. Stay with the questions and develop your capacity to be curious way beyond your first 90 days.
What are other questions that you have found useful in asking?
This article first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.