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When Leaders Crash In and All Hell Breaks Loose

Workplace cultures are living breathing organisms that adhere to unwritten rules. They have a vibe, a way of being.  As an executive coach, one of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make when taking on a new role is crashing into a culture. They think and act like they know what everyone needs, but they don’t really have a clue.  The results are often disastrous.

To be fair, it’s often not all entirely the fault of the leader who crashes in. One example in particular comes to my mind. He was an executive who had worked in academia and was transitioning to a sports brand. He was told by the leaders who hired him to be bold and to push for transformation. He went in hot and immediately got burned by employees who took offence to his assertiveness.

Choose first to understand and then be understood

To maintain his new role, this executive went on an apology tour. Essentially, he vowed to be a better listener. You can course correct when you own up to your mistakes, are willing to accept feedback from others and change your behavior based on the information you receive.  His gestures worked and he got another chance. And, he ended up thriving in the role.

It’s important for leaders new to a culture to first take a listening posture. If possible, take in all the information you can for as long as you can without making any judgments or declarations about the direction you want to take. The act of focusing on listening puts leaders in a place of objectivity and sets leaders up for successful relationships in the long-run.