Proving yourself in a new role: the “quick wins” paradox

Introduction

New leaders must prove themselves quickly, but the quest for rapid results is inherently dangerous. Through a survey of 5,400 new leaders and their managers, Learning & Development Roundtable identified the five traps or problematic behaviours for new leaders to avoid on the way to a “Quick Win”, and discovered how focusing on Collective Quick Wins—not individual ones—can drive the performance of both new leaders and their direct reports.

An overview: in brief

“The Quick Wins Paradox” is a short, three minute, video from the Corporate Executive Board. It introduces the ideas explained in more detail in the article below.

The idea in more detail

Many leaders taking on new roles try to prove themselves early on by going after quick wins – fresh, visible contributions to the business. But in the pursuit of early results, those leaders often fall into traps that prevent them from benefiting from their achievements. To succeed in their new positions, leaders must realize that the teams they have inherited are also experiencing change. Instead of focusing on an individual accomplishment, leaders need to work with team members on a collective quick win.

In a study of more than 5,400 new leaders, the authors found that those who were struggling tended to exhibit five behaviors characteristic of people overly intent on securing a quick win. They a) focused too much on details, b) reacted negatively to criticism, c) intimidated others, d) jumped to conclusions and e) micromanaged their direct reports. Some managed to eke out a win anyway, but the fallout was often toxic.

The leaders who were thriving in their new roles, by contrast, shared not only a strong focus on results–necessary for early successes–but also excellent change-management skills. They a) communicated a clear vision, b) developed constructive relationships, and c) built team capabilities. They seemed to realize that the lasting value of their accomplishment would be the way they managed their teams through the transition. Collective quick wins established credibility and prepared them to lead their teams to harder-won victories. The authors provide a diagnostic tool for identifying opportunities for collective quick wins, and they share some advice for organizations: When grooming new leaders, don’t just shore up their domain knowledge and technical skills; help them develop the change-management skills they will need as they settle in with their new teams.