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New senior leadership: A time for listening

New senior leadership: A time for listening
Published: January 18, 2023
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The drivers of ongoing change continue to impact organizations, resulting in expansions, acquisitions, transformations, reshuffles and more. One of the outcomes of change is plenty of senior leaders in new roles or new organizations. I am one of those people, having recently been appointed the role of General Manager for Impact UK. This experience has prompted me to reflect on the expectations and opportunities that being a senior leader in a new role provides.

In the early days of a new senior leadership position, it would be easy to feel a need to establish yourself in the role of leader, to assert your voice, leadership style, and authority. But in this article, I will argue that being a new senior leader is not an opportunity for speaking but for listening.

This is particularly true for those of us stepping into a context with a degree of complexity, which, from my experience, is the case for most senior leadership roles! We know that complexity requires a different form of leadership, one that moves away from being the single point leader with everyone following to a different approach that maintains awareness of the whole system and works with people to help them take action to change the system itself.

Being new is a magical time. In the first six months, it’s normal to be under a different set of expectations, with more permission to experiment and do things differently than an established member of the business might have. In some ways, it’s a ‘honeymoon period’ in which you have more freedom to take leadership action and make effective, positive change.

However, in order to maximize this time and affect the change that is really needed, it’s vital first to gain a deep, thorough understanding of the business and its current reality. And this is only achieved by seeking out multiple other perspectives. Here are my top pieces of advice for how to go about this:

1. Start as you mean to go on

Be intentional about making time to listen to your new colleagues from the get-go. When I started this role, I set myself the objective of spending thirty minutes, one-to-one, with every employee in the UK business within the first 45 days. Setting up a time like this provides an opportunity to hear each person’s perspective on the business: its strengths, opportunities, and weaknesses, as well as any initial feedback they have for you. Being proactive and structured in this way also ensures that no voice goes unheard.

2. Balance internal and external perspectives

Blending your internal points of view with external ones is important to avoid bias or partial understanding. As well as our employees, I also approached all of our clients for meetings to hear their points of view. I found that the customer/client perspective is valuable as a source of information to weave into company strategy and rich feedback to pass onto the wider business.  

3. Use standard questions

In both internal and external scenarios, utilizing a set of standard questions for every conversation is a really useful way to gather quantifiable and qualifiable data, providing a quick snapshot of the business from which you can glean insight and spot patterns and trends.

4. Maximise relationship building

Whilst maintaining a framework with set questions, it’s also vital to allow space and time in the conversation to get to know the other party as a human individual ­– to hear their story. Having these one-to-one conversations early in a new role is a fantastic opportunity for relationship building, so ensure that your listening is not purely extractive. 

Try these practical steps to maximize your time in ‘the honeymoon period’. Because the deeper and broader your understanding of the business, and the sooner you gain it, the more effectively you can take leadership action and make a positive difference in your new role.

Listening is work that never ends. Do you have a point of view that you’d like to share with me? Get in touch for a conversation.

Learn more about how to cultivate your listening skills as a leader and master the art of deep, active listening.

Scott Rose is General Manager for Impact UK.