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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hit the Ground Listening--The First Few Months

For many new leaders, there's a real urgency to hit the ground running. We all want to impress our new bosses that we have what it takes to make change, turn a profit, and succeed. After all, isn't that why we were hired? Well, yes and no.

CEOs and senior executives, the good ones, want us to succeed but not at the expense of the culture—especially if the company is doing well. Successful corporate leaders expect (but don't always tell us) a leader who will respect the corporate culture, figure out what it is, and make changes accordingly and appropriately.

In his book, The First 90 Days Michael Watkins warns against this run in and start changing everything, action imperative. A friend of mine and CEO of a large association conducted an informal survey with key executives on his mailing list. This fellow is a former headhunter and political insider in Washington, DC with an enviable database of high-placed folks. He asked these executives, what was the single piece of advice they would give incoming leaders. The overwhelming piece of advice: Listen.

I just had lunch with a senior FBI executive, who told me exactly the same thing. He said that baring emergencies or things that are just plain broken, he wants one of his new CEOs—called Special Agents in Charge for the field offices of the FBI in every major city in the county—to be people who listen and “respect” the culture of the office.

So, there you have it…three smart people telling us the same thing. Stop, look, and listen.

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