How New Leadership Positions are Like New Sports Cars

How New Leadership Positions are Like New Sports CarsLanding an exciting new position is like getting the keys to a shiny new Ferrari – you’re exhilarated, ripe with anticipation, eager to test your skill.  But….. how do you get the thing started?

The analogy is probably truer than we realize, because even if you salivated over that Ferrari for years, it’s intimidating to get behind the wheel, realize the power you have to channel, figure out all the mechanics and electronics, test your limits behind the wheel, and make it really perform!

Let’s give you some guidance on moving into your new Ferrari of a leadership position, so that you can make that new role really hum.

Do the research.  You wouldn’t buy a $250,000 car without a lot of research, but it’s amazing how many leaders walk into challenging new roles with only cursory knowledge of what awaits them.  Before you park yourself in the seat, get as much information as you can.  Consider these areas of research:

  • The company or division: the strategic plan, your area’s budget and most recent operating plan, pending legal or regulatory actions, information on in-progress or soon-to-be-launched projects, and major internal and external communications from your new area of responsibility.
  • Key data: progress against your company’s/division’s performance metrics over the last few years, stock performance, financial reports, employee turnover rates and information
  • The team: in addition to organization charts, look for bios and recent performance reviews of your staff, bios about colleagues, and any employee surveys or culture assessments.

Test drive.  Don’t be afraid to ask, even before you enter a new role, to sit in on key meetings, and to meet key stakeholders.  It’s much easier to act in the neutral observer role before you have to start making decisions.

Learn what’s under the hood.  It’s not enough to get formal data to know how to operate in a new job.  Spend your early weeks in your new role in curiosity mode.  Establish a ‘learning plan’ for yourself, and make sure it includes such things as:

  • The ‘engine’ – learn well the customers, the products, the work processes, the skill sets needed to get the work done in your new area.
  • The political environment – how decisions are made, both formally and informally; who has influence and power, and how it is sought and exercised; what ‘currencies’ are used in the political game, such as access to resources, or support for pet projects.
  • The cultural norms – how communications channels work – formal and informal; what norms or values are sacred; what habits are common; what motivates people.
  • Your role and authority – what degree of autonomy you can really exercise; what others (not just your boss) expect of you; what boundaries are important to respect.

Consider asking questions such as:

  • What’s our biggest strategic challenge? Our biggest operating challenge?
  • How do people perceive us (our division/our company)?
  • What gets in the way of people doing their best?
  • What makes you most proud to work here?
  • What do you think is important heritage I should understand about this company/work area?
  • What are the invisible norms here – the things people do, say, and think that aren’t talked about?
  • What gets people in trouble or sidelined?
  • How do decisions get made? Conflicts resolved?
  • What have other leaders failed to address that remains important?
  • What have other leaders done that has made a big difference?
  • What would you most like me to focus on that you think would have greatest impact?

Consider the brand heritage.  Maybe Ferrari isn’t the hottest new car any more, with McLarens and Bugattis on Christmas lists, but honor what the heritage brought to you.  Acknowledge to people around you that the legacy of the organization and its direction is an important part of your division’s success and you don’t intend to blow it up, even if changes are needed.  Remember that the people you will be leading and working with are part of the legacy, and need to feel their work created something of value.

Focus on the road and the destination, not the rearview mirror.  Avoid the glass-half-full of what doesn’t exist or is inadequate or was unattended by your predecessor.  Instead, make it your objective in your first ‘100 days’ to:

  • Find a couple of impactful quick hits to alleviate some pain points or give needed recognition to your team. Make sure the road isn’t bumpy for you or those with whom you need to work.
  • Define and get agreement on two or three priorities that will make a big difference. Create a picture of the destination, and keep hammering at these two or three focal points.  Your job, even before making them happen, is to make people believe in them.

Master a good pit crew.  Spend most of your time building relationships – with employees, colleagues, influencers, customers, suppliers.  Make sure you know clearly what skills each brings to the table that can aid your plans – and what they need from you in return.  Build productive alliances.

Keep your eyes on the road.  When you’re driving a powerful new car, it’s dangerous to check out a shiny button you hadn’t seen before.  Be conscious of ‘focus’ instead of ‘fires’.  You’ll get dragged into minor brush fires, people spats, and brilliant ideas whose time has not yet come.  Get them quickly into the background and keep your focus tightly on your few key goals.


So pull that Ferrari onto the road and put it in gear.  Once you’ve taken these steps, you’re ready not just to drive, but to give yourself a great run in your new roe!

Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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2 thoughts on “How New Leadership Positions are Like New Sports Cars

  1. When you were using your metaphor about cars, I was sure you were going to mention a few crashes. I like your points. They remind me of “The first 90 days”. Though when a new leader comes on board, usually a old leader left the organization. It’s a really good idea to ask people “why”. You’ll uncover a whole slue of land minds that now you can easily avoid.

    • Great idea, Chris! Always good to ask why the former leader got ‘retired’, to make sure you don’t go down the same road! I’d suggest the questions be ‘What did the last leader do exceedingly well that made a difference?’ and ‘What mistakes have past leaders made that I should avoid making one more time?’

      Thanks for your contribution – and no crashes, please!

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