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The Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role

The AIM Leadership Roadmap - The Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role

The AIM Leadership Roadmap helps leaders who have a new mandate, new team, or who need new ideas to lead with confidence, accelerate impact, and deliver results in their leadership role. This guide will give you the steps you can take to inspire growth in your people and your organization and build your leadership legacy.

Download The Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role to read later if you don't have time now. 

Based on conversations with leaders to uncover their biggest goals and challenges as they took on new leadership roles and embarked on change, I found out their biggest fear is...fear of failure. These are highly successful, seasoned leaders with many achievements to their names. They are people who you'd think would be oozing with confidence (and perhaps outwardly do so) and would be calm, cool, and collected in leading a new charge. But, they, like many of us, doubt their decisions at times, waiver in their abilities, and second-guess their experience when leading others in times of change. 

They told me their fear of failure stems from: 

  • An expectation gap – not knowing if their expectations match those of their new boss or organization. 
  • The 'new person bias' – feeling like they have a target on their back. 
  • Fumbling through ways to build trust with new colleagues. 
  • The need to deliver results asap, without the time to ramp up their knowledge of their new situation.
  • Feeling lonely in their new role – either as a senior leader or being in a new organization – they aren't comfortable sharing not-yet-fully-formed thoughts with colleagues or find themselves surrounded by people who don't challenges their ideas.
  • Not being a technical expert in their new role – they may bring years of leadership experience, but not years of technical expertise.

In response to this research, I’ve organized my years of experience into the AIM Leadership Roadmap. This Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role will give you all the highlights of the Roadmap and set you on the path to success. 

There are nine steps in the AIM Leadership Roadmap to lead you from fear of failure to building your leadership legacy. 

1. Set Your Focus 

Set your focus is the first step in the Commit to Action stage of the Roadmap – with a spotlight on you as a leader going from overloaded with too many things to do to creating clarity and confidence to do what’s next.

Set your focus is about using your time and energy in the right places and going from being reactive to choosing what to focus on.
When starting a new leadership role or mandate it helps to take a moment and think about where you want to focus.

Here are three actions to achieve this.

  • Know your why – ask yourself, why this role, why now, and why you? Think about what compelled you to accept this role, and why now is the right time to do it. Then also think about why you – this is a great way to build your confidence to do great things in the role. You were chosen for a reason – why? What do you bring that is unique and adds value to the situation? It’s important that you know and own the things you are great at and that you get to use those strengths on a regular basis. Using your strengths regularly is a key to job satisfaction and engagement. Download your free Situation Assessment Interview Guide and use the 'Your Role and Expectations Questions' to get started. 
  • Choose your leadership approach – Identify your values and beliefs: as you set your focus it's important to understand what you stand for and what drives you. I find a good way to uncover my core values is to reflect on what triggers a strong negative reaction in me. For example, one of my values is ‘don’t question my integrity’ – when someone does question my integrity, I’m negatively triggered with a strong visceral reaction. I know I can’t work in a place that will continually question or challenge my integrity. Think about what your core values are. And how your new role aligns to those values. How will your values and your approach to leadership serve your role and the team you are leading? Setting your focus is a chance for self reflection around not only your values but also your strengths and your blind spots.
  • Create your goals – these aren’t the business goals yet. These are your personal goals, things like – who do you want to meet in your first 90 days? How do you want to show up? How do you want to feel in the role in three months? What impact do you want to have on the team in the short term? The first 90 days in a new role can be a roller coaster and it will take time to have the full impact that you desire, so start with some short term, personal goals.

Lots of self reflection! But worth it to help you go from being reactive to making choices. 

2. Assess Your Situation 

Assessing your situation is the second step in the Commit to Action stage of the Roadmap – with a focus on you as a leader going from overloaded with too many things to do to creating clarity and confidence to do what’s next. Once you have set your focus (step 1), next you’ll want to assess your situation to go from the unknown to being in the know, by learning about the players, the processes, and the plans associated with your new role. 

Here are three actions to achieve this: 

  • Meet the players – This includes your team, peers, and colleagues within the organization. I find one-on-one interviews the best way to connect with and get to know each person. Ask questions like: How did you come to be in your current role? What and how do you contribute to this team? What is going well in your role? What and how would you like to develop in your role? What are your top priorities? As you talk to people you’ll start to see the big picture of the team – including relationships, tension points, skills, experiences, and personality traits. Understanding and building connections with people is a key step in assessing the situation you’ve come into. Download your free Situation Assessment Interview Guide and use the ‘Team Questions’ to get started. 
  • Learn the business – Get to know the organization's history, culture, values, mission, and business goals. And learn about the different departments, their functions, and how they contribute to the overall success of the organization. I find reading through documents and company websites a good place to start, as well as asking some business understanding questions in the one-on-one interviews. I also find that after a couple of months, it’s a good idea to go back and re-read the documents and websites – by this point I usually have more context and everything I read makes more sense and I can connect dots that I didn’t previously. Knowing the current state of business – through plans, priorities, and perhaps financials – will help you continue to put the puzzle pieces together to decide what to do first and next.
  • Determine the structure – Figuring out how work gets done in a new team or organization can be tricky, but also enlightening. Does the organization have a heavy meeting culture or excessive email culture? Most organizations I work with would say yes to both! As you sit through meetings you’ll see what sort of reporting is done and valued, how decisions are made, which meetings get prioritized, and who holds the balance of power at various levels. I’ve worked with some amazingly smart individuals over the years, and often their biggest struggle was figuring out how to get work done in a new organization – the sooner you can decode the structure and processes, the better chance you have of moving your agenda forward.

3.  Synthesize Your Ideas 
Synthesizing your ideas is the third step in the Commit to Action stage of the Roadmap – with a focus on you as a leader going from overloaded with too many things to do, to creating clarity and confidence to do what’s next. Once you have set your focus (step 1), and Assessed your situation (step 2), you’ll then want to synthesize your ideas to go from generating too many to do lists to picking priorities with purpose. 

Here are three actions to achieve this: 

  • Capture all your ideas – By this point you’ve conducted interviews, attended meetings, read documents and likely have copious notes, ideas, and action items to organize. This is also a good time to re-read some of those documents you read in week one. With more context and information, the content will be more relevant and make more sense. I always find I have a few ‘ah-ha’ moments after re-reading documents once I have more context. Gather all your ideas and notes together and start to collate and categorize what you have learned.
  • Develop decision criteria – Now that you have a solid list of ideas, it is important to narrow them down! In order to do this, it is essential to make a set of criteria for why ideas will make it, or hit the cutting room floor. A two-by-two matrix is always a great place to start to plot your ideas. Your criteria might include ease of execution vs impact on the business, or cost to do (money and resources) vs impact on the business. Also consider what you’ve learned about how decisions are made and how actions are prioritized in the organization and consider how to apply those factors to your various lists. You know you can’t do everything, so having a set of decision making criteria will help you get focused and help you explain or justify any decisions you make. 
  • Choose priorities – You’ve got your list and you’ve narrowed it down with your decision criteria, now you need to pick your priorities. We’ve all heard of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound – or a variation thereof). I like to think about being realistic when picking priorities in a new role. You will get faster and more efficient and effective at executing and implementing as you grow into your role, however, in the short term, it’s important to ‘bite off what you can chew’. You want to be able to show some wins – both for your own confidence and to earn the confidence of your new team. So put in some stretch when picking priorities, but remember to keep them realistic as well. Not all great ideas are achievable, and not all achievable ideas are great – this process aims to identify the priorities that are both. 

Download your free Situation Assessment Interview Guide to get started on the right foot in your new leadership role. 

4.  Create Plans
Creating Plans is the first step in the Make an Impact phase of the Roadmap – with a focus on leading your team to develop a game plan then execute on game day and everyday. 

Creating Plans will help you go from having ad hoc to do’s to establishing concrete plans for your whole team. 

Here are three actions to achieve this:

  • Understand the current state – In the previous step you synthesized your ideas and picked your priorities, now it’s time to do it with the team. ‘The status quo exists for a reason’ – I’m not sure who said that first, but it’s a great place to start. Gain an understanding of the current state – review current results, current activities, the current environment, and existing plans. Gather reports, interview the team, consider doing a SWOT analysis to identify current Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Download your free Situation Assessment Interview Guide and use the ‘Strategy Understanding Questions’ to get started.
  • Develop vision and priorities – You may start with a visioning exercise, if your team or organization doesn’t have a clear vision. This is your purpose, why you exist, and acts as the north star for your team when making decisions. I always say you want your people to make decisions in alignment with the direction you are going, so it’s important they know and buy into that direction and vision. To pick the priorities that become your plans, you can revisit your decision criteria from step three (Synthesize Ideas). Your criteria might include ease of execution vs impact on the business, or cost to do (money and resources) vs impact on the business. Using your vision and your decision criteria, agree on team priorities. 
  • Assign actions – Before assigning actions, I like to do a resource needs analysis. To achieve the priorities you’ve chosen, what resources are needed? Do you have all the right people in the right roles to make the magic happen? If you have gaps, how can you fill them? The next step of building buy-in to the plan is to assign actions – do you have volunteers, are there specific people who are best-suited for specific actions, is there a stretch assignment for someone you are developing? Assigning actions and creating accountability to complete those actions is key to moving your vision and strategy forward. 

Review your plans regularly and revise them as needed. This will help you stay on track and adjust your strategy as your business evolves.

Download The Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role to read later.

5.  Align Your Team 
Aligning Your Team is the second step in the Make an Impact phase of the Roadmap – with a focus on leading your team to develop a game plan then execute on game day and everyday. 

Aligning your Team will help you go from inconsistency to being in sync by building common understanding and buy-in to goals, behaviours, and expectations. 

Here are three actions to achieve this:

  • Player assessment – this focuses on identifying the skills and talents of your team members. This is an activity I do with my coaching clients. Sometimes we look at it from the perspective of who are your A players and your B players? And how can you develop your B players to be A players. Learning about your teams members – what makes then tick, what their strengths are, and how they show up each day – is key to achieving your business goals. I believe you need to make the assumption that everyone wants to do a good job and knowing people’s skills and motivations can help you lead them to do a great job. Download your free Situation Assessment Interview Guide and use the ‘Team Questions’ to get started. 
  • Team assessment – Knowing your individual players is step one, seeing how the team works together is step two. You may have a whole team of A players, but can they work together effectively to achieve goals? Do they all know the direction you are trying to go? Is every person contributing equally, or is there an imbalance? The ‘Team Questions’ in the Situation Assessment Interview Guide are a great starting point to gain this understanding. I also like to use my SCOTT Team Index and the Stages of Team Performance (forming, storming, norming, performing) to gain a pulse on the team dynamics, identify any barriers to team cohesion, and decide what to focus on next. 
  • Engagement conversations – the goal with this step is to gain commitment from your team members to the direction you are going. The concept of Engagement Conversations is from my book, Talking Change: Must-Have Conversations for Successful Leaders. When making any sort of big or small change, people like to feel heard and like they have some control over the situation. Engaging people in conversation is the best way to do this – through conversation you gain an understanding of people’s perspectives, ideas, and possible resistance. I have a colleague who took a lot of his employees for walks during the pandemic – he realized that they needed to talk through their concerns and challenges and the best way to do this was outside of the workplace and in a space they felt comfortable sharing. Many points of resistance were overcome during these walks! The conversations you had with your team when creating plans, picking priorities, and assigning actions are all variations of engagement conversations. You can find more ideas in the Engagement Conversations section of my book.

6.  Measure Results 
Measuring Results is the third step in the Make an Impact phase of the Roadmap – with a focus on leading your team to develop a game plan then execute on game day and everyday. 

Measuring results will help you go from best guesses to making informed decisions with the right information.

Here are three actions to achieve this:

  • Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – What are you aiming to achieve? That is the question to answer with your KPIs. I’ve worked on lots of projects and in lots of organizations that don’t have a clear direction of where they are going. This lack of direction makes aligning your team difficult because they don’t know what the priorities and goals are. Asking yourself, and your team, what are you trying to achieve and why are you aiming to achieve it, will set the stage for making the right decisions. Determining what you will measure and when – your KPIs – is a key conversation to have with your team.
  • Develop decision processes – Once you have your KPIs established, these act as a lens for decision making. I often say, ‘you want your people to make decisions in alignment with the direction you want to go’. With KPIs they have the criteria to do so. People can ask themselves, or each other, questions like, Does this project align to a KPI or goal? How will this initiative contribute to what we are trying to achieve? Should we fund this activity to help achieve our goals? Another aspect of developing effective decision processes is to have the right people making the right decisions. I use the Decision Tree by Susan Scott for this. Decision making is a skill, and with the right KPIs, criteria, and processes, both individuals and teams can improve their decision-making effectiveness. 
  • Review results – Where are we and what have we accomplished? Just as you would check a map to make sure you’re traveling the right route, you review your results against your goals or KPIs to determine if you’re making progress or need to adjust course. Did we do what we set out to do? If not, what pushed us off course? What do we need to focus on next to achieve our goals? This is where the Lessons Learned Conversation and the Status and Progress Conversation from my Talking Change with Jen and Rebecca podcast will be useful. Click the links to listen to the podcasts for each conversation. Reviewing results is a great opportunity to identify what is going well, what could be improved, and what you want to do differently going forward.

7.  Enable Change 
Enabling Change is the first step in the Create the Movement phase of the Roadmap – with a focus on moving your organization from status quo to creating impactful change. 

Enabling change will help you develop change champions out of change resistors and implement change that sticks. 

Here are three actions to achieve this:

  • Follow a change management roadmap – in my book Talking Change: Must-Have Conversations for Successful Leaders, I outline the Planning and Managing Conversations which provide a change management roadmap. These conversations, which include of number of questions to help create your change plan, ensure you identify the right timing, tools, people, processes, and communications to implement your change. The starting point is The Why Conversation – establishing the purpose for your change will guide your actions and enlist others in your goals. The What, When, and How Conversation will help you set your course to get from point A to point B. You will absolutely need to make adjustments along the way, but by following the questions and actions in the Planning and Managing Conversations, you’ll be on the right path to do change right the first time. Download your free PM’s Sure-Fire Guide to Managing Change for more ideas. 
  • Develop change-savvy leaders – if you are a leader in today’s organizations, you lead change. You need all your people leaders – supervisors, managers, directors, VPs, CXOs – to be change-savvy leaders. I often say ‘embrace change, lead better’. The more comfortable people are with change, the better they will be at leading others through change. The Self-Reflection Conversations in my book are a great starting point for uncovering your change leadership style and roadblocks. Gaining a better understanding of your own reactions to change and knowing people’s typical reactions to change, loss, and transition will make you a better leader. Developing change-savvy leaders will also help with all future changes, as they can be your sponsors and advocates to help lead change from the top.
  • Create structure and habits to sustain change success – you need commitment to change, not just compliance. Change fails when people just go through the motions of whatever is new, the moment they have the opportunity to revert back to the old way of doing things – they will! Hence why you need structures and habits to sustain commitment so that people continue in the direction you are aiming to go. A great structure I often use in change initiatives is to create a champion network. These are your early adopters and some of your biggest dissenters. This network can help influence others to make change, be your eyes and ears at all levels in your organization, and bring you the feedback needed to adjust course where necessary. Download The 5 Steps to Build the Best Change Champion Network to find out more. You also need to positively reinforce your changes through performance management and goal setting, and create the habits of coaching and feedback to help people succeed in the new way. Lastly, it’s important to remove any of the old tools, processes, structures, or reminders – so that people can’t revert to the old way of doing things. 

Taking these actions will help you fast-track change implementations, unstick stalled projects, and sustain your change success.

8.  Develop Leaders
Developing Leaders is the second step in the Create the Movement phase of the Roadmap – with a focus on moving your organization from status quo to creating impactful change. 

Developing leaders will help you go from having talent gaps to creating a talent pipeline, in turn improving the skills and retention of your team. 

Here are three actions to achieve this:

  • Create succession plans – do you know the critical roles in your organization? Do you know who will take over those critical roles if someone leaves or retires? Succession planning involves four key activities: (1) Document the critical roles in your organization and the incumbents in those roles, (2) identify the potential candidates for those roles – those ready now and those ready in 1 – 2 years, (3) assess the potential candidates against the competencies needed for the roles, (4) create development plans – including on-the-job practice, coaching, and training – to prepare the candidates to take over those roles. Having documented succession plans helps you identify any talent gaps and decreases the risks associated with people leaving because you know how to fill the roles. 
  • Create a leadership development roadmap – People often leave their jobs because they don’t see a future in their organization – they feel there is nowhere to go and nothing else for them to learn. The first step to develop a leadership roadmap is to decide on the leadership competencies needed for your organization at the different levels. This roadmap shows people the opportunities they can aspire to as they move up and around the organization. Leadership is needed at all levels – whether you are an individual contributor or a business unit leader. Having a leadership development roadmap provides a consistent approach to improve and embed leadership skills throughout the organization and works as a retention tool, as people will see what else is possible. And having your leadership competencies documented will expedite the impact of your new leaders because they will know what is expected and how to develop the skills. 
  • Target skill development – once you have your leadership development roadmap competencies identified, you can brainstorm ways that people can gain those skills and competencies. This may include job shadowing, coaching, training, or stretch assignments. To identify the specific skills an individual needs to develop, have people self assess or gather feedback about them to determine their skill gaps. Each person will have different strengths and areas for development. And while common leadership programs are great for creating consistency in skills, language, and behaviours in organizations; for individuals to grow, they will need targeted skill development to prepare for the next level. One-on-one coaching is a great way to target development and prepare candidates for promotions to fill your succession gaps. The combination of assessment, coaching, job shadowing, stretch assignments, and common leadership programs will fill your pipeline with promotion-ready candidates, improve retention, and generally bolster the leadership skills in your organization. 

Developing leaders is an ongoing process, and while it can be daunting, especially for smaller organizations with limited resources, you can start small – identify your critical roles, then start to think about the skills needed to fill those roles. Bring other people into the conversation so that it’s not just one person’s job to develop leaders. Having the right people with the rights skills is critical to any business but remember, it’s a long game, the fruits of your labour won’t appear in the short term, but the payoff will be worth it!

9.  Inspire Growth
Inspiring growth is the third step in the Create the Movement phase and the final step in the AIM Leadership Roadmap – with a focus on moving your organization from status quo to creating impactful change. 
Inspiring growth will help you go from striving to thriving as an organization. 

Here are three ways to achieve this, these may sound familiar – it’s the three phases of the AIM Leadership Roadmap – one more time with feeling! 

  • Commit to Action – as the leader: set your focus, assess your situation, and synthesize your ideas. These steps will take you from feeling overloaded to creating clarity and confidence to do what’s next. 
  • Make an Impact – with your team: create plans, align your team, and measure results. These steps will take you from game plan to game day and every day. 
  • Create the Movement – in your organization: enable change, develop leaders, and inspire growth in people and business. These steps will take you from status quo to creating impactful change. 

What else can you do to inspire growth? For this I looked to some of the Conversation Considerations in my book – Talking Change: Must-Have Conversations for Successful Leaders

  • Build trust – get to know people and let them get to know you. 
  • Speak their language – leading with ‘I’m from head office and I’m here to help’ does not start you off on the right foot. To inspire people to grow and deliver, you need to understand and empathize with their situation. Speak their language by using their terms and phrases, not your head office jargon. And in some cases, you may have a language barrier, so figure out how to help them understand what you are asking of them. 
  • Keep an open mind and a closed mouth – as the leader people won’t always contradict what you say and just because you are the leader doesn’t mean that you have all the right answers. Keeping an open mind to other ideas and letting people voice those ideas before you voice yours will facilitate broader thinking, new solutions, and different points of view. 
  • Have fun – this gets missed a lot when leaders are focused on budgets and bottom lines. Generally speaking everyone knows we need to manage money and resources, so don’t always lead with that. I recently worked on a project that involved the need to reduce the number of files and emails kept by employees, I instituted the Golden Plate Prize – the person and department who reduced their files the most each month received chocolates and the Golden Plate (which I crafted from dollar store supplies) to display at their desk. It made the painful tasks of sorting emails and files much more fun. 
  • Celebrate success – celebrating small successes along the way can help to maintain motivation and momentum towards larger goals. Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small. Check out this podcast on the Celebration and Thank You Conversation from my book for more ideas. 

All nine steps in the AIM Leadership Roadmap ultimately create the environment to Inspire Growth!

Inspire growth is the result needed to create your leadership legacy. Where you may have started your new role with a fear of failure, by following the AIM Leadership Roadmap you will leave a legacy of inspiration and growth in both your people and your organization!

Download The Definitive Guide to Leading in a New Role for ongoing reference. 

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