4 Mistakes Leaders Need to Avoid When Onboarding

mistakes leaders need to avoid

Every time you onboard into a new role, you have a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself as a better leader.

And while starting in a new role is a major milestone, it’s also a powerful lesson in self-awareness – revealing your work style and personality, and how those traits combine to show what kind of leader you are.

Having coached many CEOs and senior executives through their onboarding processes, I have closely followed my share of horror stories, some of them described in my book Lessons in LeadershiT: Detoxing the Workplace. When a leader’s integration in a new company isn’t going well, it’s typically the result of a behavioral or communication mistake that isn’t called out soon enough; the new-hire is unknowingly doing something that is rubbing people the wrong way, but the offender is oblivious to it. There are a handful of behaviors that tend to be the source of problems, but the new hire typically fails to understand how these behaviors are being received by colleagues.

Here are 4 mistakes leaders need to avoid when onboarding.

  1. Focus on showing off all your accomplishments, experience, and brilliance in your first meetings

Everyone wants to seem competent, but sometimes new-hires focus so much on proving themselves that they come across as arrogant and unlikeable.

Instead of trying to demonstrate your own talents and know-how, take these first meetings as an opportunity to learn from key stakeholders at the company. The same applies for joining a new organization or Board. As a Board Director at The Committee of 200 (C200), a group of the world’s top women entrepreneurs and C-suite executives, I see first-hand the new members who onboard the organization eager to learn about it and to create long lasting relationships, versus the new members whose focus is primarily on showing how powerful and influential they are. Being a brand new employee, just as being a new member in any organization, presents the perfect chance to start building relationships where people informally “feed” you new information that you won’t find in company’s documents. As a new-hire, you will also have a small window to ask questions. Use it wisely.

Also read: 5 Habits That You Don’t Realize Are Undermining Your Leadership Potential

  1. Ready, Fire, Aim: There’s a new sheriff in town

Some new leaders decide to assert themselves by making changes immediately. I call this the “ready, fire, aim” method. As talented a leader as you may be, you simply don’t know enough in your first few weeks to make changes that can have material implications or unintended and undesired consequences. However, you don’t need a deep understanding of the company to make minor changes that send a message about how you will be different than your predecessor.

I once replaced a long tenured colleague in a technology company. He had historically held business calls that included only Senior Partners, and he controlled the agenda all by himself. When I took over, my first changes were to add Junior Partners to the calls and circulate a request for topics prior to the calls. I also changed the weekly meeting schedule from Mondays to Fridays. Those small changes were meant to send not only a clear message about who was in charge, but it also gave people a hint of the type of culture I intended to foster: inclusive and participative.

Also read: Unwritten Rules You Need to be Aware of While Onboarding

  1. “Taking the 5th” on the vision and strategy discussion

Opposite to the “Ready, fire, aim” sheriff, this leadershi* stems from a lack of guidance and direction. Instead of being trigger-happy with radical changes, this new leader under-shares his vision and plan, leaving colleagues and employees confused.

From the moment you start, colleagues will be curious of your plan for moving the organization forward. In the absence of clear guidance, employees will create stories and fill in the blanks. They don’t do it because they are gossipers, vicious, or want you to fail; they do it because they are motivated and propelled by clear input, information, and direction. Great leadership is about providing clarity, courage, and guidance, so don’t shy away from sharing your strategy with those around you.

  1. The Secret Agent

When stepping into a new role or newly created role, never assume that colleagues, peers, and direct reports are clear on what you were brought in to do as articulated by your boss or the leadership in the company. More often than not, employees are not clearly communicated what you were hired to do. This oversight can cause serious problems for any new-hire, especially for a new leader. Make it your responsibility to initiate that conversation to ensure everyone is on the same page with your role, to the extent that it matters.

Onboarding can be a great learning experience, but only for the mindful and open-minded. Even if you aren’t currently in a new role, observe new hires in your company. Note the behaviors you would like to emulate, and the traps to avoid. If you use every opportunity to learn and help others onboard, you will be better positioned for success in your current role, as well as any future ones.

Also read: Successful Onboarding At A New Job

About the Author

Ana Dutra is the CEO of The Executives’ Club of Chicago, a 106 year-old world-class senior executives organization focused on innovation, technology, Diversity & Inclusion and leadership development. A Brazilian native, Dutra brings over 28 years of experience to help Boards, CEOs and their teams to identify and execute growth strategies and turnarounds through innovation, acquisitions and new technologies. She has been a member of The Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only group of the world's top female entrepreneurs and C-Suite executives who work to foster, celebrate and advance women's leadership in business, since 2013. Join the conversation at @ExecClub_ADutra.