Right from the Start Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role, by Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins, begins with the cautionary tale of a young man, Andy, who had been hired as president of the company and heir apparent to the CEO. Given a strong directive for transformation and improvement, Andy quickly started making changes. In doing so, he made enemies, including the CEO that he hoped to would replace. Eventually, a coalition formed against Andy, and he was let go.
Ciampa and Watkins then highlight the steps Andy should have taken to succeed at his new position. Their suggestions include acquiring needed knowledge quickly, establishing new working relationships, juggling organizational and personal transitions, managing expectations, and maintaining person equilibrium. For instance, rather than spend the week before he started the job relaxing with his wife and kids, Ciampa and Watkins suggest that Andy should have spent that time studying the company and learning its strengths and weaknesses.
The book then goes on to discuss the mistakes many new leaders make including falling behind on the learning curve, becoming isolated, coming in with the answer, sticking with the existing team too long, attempting too much, and being captured by the wrong people. Andy, for instance, declined when a senior worker offered to help bring him up-to-date on company history and culture. He became something of a Lone Ranger, making changes prior to discussing them with anybody else.
The authors then introduce seven fundamental propositions for meeting the challenge of a new leadership position. They propose that a new leader has two to three years to make a noticeable difference in company culture and bottom line, that any leader coming in should already have made him or herself familiar with the organization, that new leaders need to be able to balance focus and flexibility, that within six months the leader will have to make some firm decisions about organizational architecture, that within six months the leader will need to have built some degree of credibility, that the leader must earn the right to make changes rather than hiding behind the authority of the board of directors, and that there is no one right answer to getting through the transition process.
The second chapter talks about the importance of small victories in key areas. The authors suggest that the leader choose a "center of gravity," an area that requires improvement. Within that center of gravity, leaders should establish their priorities, or as the authors refer to them, "A-item priorities," and introduce changes based on these priorities. Even small victories can increase worker morale.
Next, the authors turn their focus to laying a foundation. They discuss the importance of visioning -- imagining what one wants the company to look like in five or ten years when all the problems are solved -- and using those visions and successes to create a political base and to start influencing cultural change.
The next section deals with building credibility and encourages leaders to be accountable. "Getting Oriented" offers tips for learning about the company culture as well as the hard facts.
Part II of the book deals with enabling technologies and discusses different styles of learning, visioning, and coalition building.
Part III, probably the most useful part of the book for me, talks about managing oneself, having an awareness of one's personal style and realizing its strengths and weaknesses, and receiving advice and counsel from others. I was particularly interested in the distinction Ciampi and Watkins made between advice, which to them suggests transmission of knowledge, facts, or information, and counsel, which they see as having to do with dialogue and receiving information about intra-or interpersonal factors which may influence the leader's decsisions.
Right from the Start offers excellent advice to anyone trying to get ahead in his or her workplace. I appreciated that it spoke to all personality types, explaining how each management style had its strong points and weak points.
Since I tend to be introverted and a loner, I was most interested in the parts of the book that discussed avoiding isolation, building coalitions, and seeking counsel and advice. "The number one trap is to be invisible" (21) write Ciampo and Watkins. "When someone new comes in whose running the organization, people say, 'I want to see him. I want to touch him.'" I've fallen into that trap more than a few times, coming on board quietly and waiting until I'm forced to speak out about something. And then half the people say, "Who the heck is that? Why should she have a say
The sections on building a political base and changing the culture were also extremely helpful to me. "It's important for the new leader to hold the support of subordinates early on," the authors advise (73). This of course can best be done by letting workers see the new leader, by the leader meeting with workers to get a grasp on cultural climate, and by the workers succeeding both for the company and for themselves under the new leader's direction. It's a strong reminder that the next time I go on a construction site, I will need to make more of an effort to meet the workers and include them in my vision of what the site should be.
Actually changing the work culture was an important idea for me as well. Some projects just don't get off the ground well for whatever reason. Workers think the work is stupid, or they lose sight of what they're doing, make a half-hearted effort, and say, "I don't care as long as I get paid." Being able to change those attitudes with visioning, reaching out, etc. would make a world of difference on how quickly and professionally a project is completed -- or whether it gets completed at all.
I was also interested in the rules for successful coalition building which include: don't ignore organizational politics, technical change is not enough, political management is different from being political, the goal is to build a winning coalition and to prevent the formation of "blocking" coalitions, and increase your political capital. The authors then go on to advise leaders how to map and manage the political landscape. They discuss the key groups (organizational, identity, and power) that every leader must identify if he or she is to engage in coalition building.
They also discuss reasons why people might not be agreeable to change. Groups that resist change are not always led by higher-ups who have the authority to refuse to put the changes into place. Sometimes these groups are led by workers who may resist by gossiping behind the leader's back, not giving the leader all the information he or she needs to accomplish a change, etc.
When change is coming, there are usually three types of workers. Those who support the change, those who oppose the change, and those who are neutral and could go either way. Ciampa and Watkins suggest actively pursuing the people who support change and are neutral. The ones who are completely opposed will either have to be won over (unlikely), coerced, or removed from their position. This discussion of coalition building reminds me of something I've done wrong on several jobs. Wanting everyone to be in agreement, I would actively pursue the factions that did not want change and ignore the people who were on my side or who might have been on my side with a little persuasion. I did exactly the opposite of good coalition building!
I also found the chapter on Self-Awareness and Style to be very interesting and helpful. The authors remind leaders that they need to manage stress if they are to succeed. While I think most people in a leadership position are pretty familiar with stress management and finding ways to relax,…