Speed Up by Slowing Down

People who are placed unexpectedly into leadership positions are typically in for a whirlwind ordeal. They must get up to speed quickly so they have the right information they need to make informed decisions that will benefit the company. And they must make these decisions in rapid-fire succession.

Now, imagine how fast the pace would be if you suddenly became leader of the free world. Breakneck wouldn’t even begin to describe the speed of the transition.

One aspect I admire about Tom Kirkman, former cabinet secretary turned president on the TV drama Designed Survivor, is he doesn’t rush into making judgements or decisions. When faced with a major crisis (and the show so far has been one crisis after another), Kirkman ensures he has all the information available before me sets a course of action.

For instance, when Kirkman sees a video from the leader of a terrorist group taking responsibility for blowing up the U.S. Capitol, rather than order an attack at the urging of his military advisors, Kirkman makes sure he hears from those in the room who have a different opinion.

About 50 percent of leaders in new roles fail in the first 18 months on the job, and fewer than half of all strategic initiatives deliver expected outcomes. New bosses tend to have a strong negative effect on performance.

So what can new leaders do about it? Our research shows that successful leaders during a transition period focus on three areas: increasing clarity, increasing unity and increasing agility. We’ve seen Kirkman focus on increasing clarity by setting the expectation that he won’t make major decisions based on partial information. It will be interesting to see if he zeros in on the other two areas in upcoming episodes.

To learn more about how to lead through difficult transitions, please read our latest fact sheet

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