Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role
by Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins
Harvard Business School Press, 315 pages, $24.95

Being recruited for a leadership position from outside the company can be one of the most exciting and difficult challenges you'll face. You may have some innovative ideas for the company, but you'll won't be able to form supportive relationships or understand the depth of the company's problems until you actually start working there.

The first six months on the job are the most critical, authors Ciampa and Watkins argue in Right from the Start. In what they call the transition period, you must accomplish three core tasks:

  1. Create momentum. Generate enthusiasm for change. The keys to creating momentum are building your credibility and finding a way to address problems that have been hindering the company.
  2. Master the enabling technologies of learning, visioning, and coalition building. You won't be able to take action and achieve your goals unless you master the following:
    • Learning -- as a new person, you have much to learn.
    • Visioning -- you must have a clear image of the future.
    • Coalition building -- you'll need a base of support.
  3. Manage oneself. To be effective, you have to stay focused, clearheaded, and emotionally stable. Stay on the "rested edge," not the "ragged edge," the authors write.

Five Challenges

The majority of the book deals with these three tasks. For example, in Part 1, "Creating Momentum," you'll find chapters on securing early wins, laying a foundation for sustained success, and building your credibility.

It won't be easy. In the first chapter of the book, the authors lay out five key challenges that hamper new leaders:

  1. Acquiring needed knowledge quickly
  2. Establishing new working relationships
  3. Dealing with both organizational and interpersonal transition issues -- for example, some employees hope you'll bring great changes, while others will be threatened by your arrival
  4. Managing expectations -- the board of directors and CEO are watching (and waiting)
  5. Maintaining a personal equilibrium (as addressed in the third task)

Framework for Success

From avoiding the common mistakes that trap new leaders to forging supportive key relationships and developing the strategies that will motivate subordinates and accomplish your vision, Ciampa and Watkins offer a practical, systematic framework to guide you to success in your new position.

Common Traps

According to the authors, new leaders often fall into unsuspected traps that can dramatically hamper their effectiveness. Here's a sample:

  • Falling behind in learning. Start learning as much as you can before you start. You'll never have as much available time later.
  • Coming in with the answer. Don't be arrogant. Remember -- there are no quick-fix solutions.
  • Trying too much at once. Yes, you want to appear active and quick. But don't confuse the organization. Also, you want to prioritize the important issues.

Copyright 1999 Soundview Executive Book Summaries