How to Successfully Onboard a New Leader in Your Organization

Written by Rhea Steele on June 4, 2019

As we reflect on organizational culture, we recognize the importance of onboarding in supporting new employees to understand, engage, and reinforce our desired culture. The onboarding of new senior leaders is similarly critical since these individuals have a greater sphere of influence within the organization and can have a significant impact on culture (good or bad) in a very short time.

While onboarding is often conducted over months, new leaders need intensive, short-term onboarding in four areas to be truly successful.

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPLICIT AND EXPLICIT CULTURAL AND COLLABORATION NORMS

New leaders need an understanding of the implicit and explicit cultural and collaboration norms of both the organization as a whole and the leadership team as a unit. High-performing leadership teams regularly talk about the culture of both their team and the organization and take specific behavioral actions to ensure both are fine-tuned for organizational success. These conversations should be reopened and become more deliberate when onboarding a new member to ensure the shift in dynamics ensuing from the addition of a new personality does not negatively impact culture.

UNDERSTANDING HOW THE LEADERSHIP TEAM ADDRESSES AND MANAGES CONFLICT

All leadership teams experience conflict, it is part of the healthy dialogue and debate allowing the best decisions to be made for the organization. Everything from how discussions are structured to how emotions/individuals are handled when discussions get heated should be on the table. The best time for a new leader to understand how conflict is managed is before one arises. This will allow her/him to prepare for the dialogue and resolution as it plays out among the team and better manage her/his emotions during the discussion.

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERSECTION OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND THE LEADERSHIP TEAM

Knowing whether the board is operational or strategic; driven by the strategic plan or special projects; and the level of detail they are seeking in preparation for discussions (among other things) are all important for the new leader to understand. It is also critical for all members of the leadership team to have a common understanding of the level of engagement they can/should have with the Board and know how to communicate information from individual Board interactions back to the full team so everyone stays in-the-loop.

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNAL POLITICS AND RELATIONSHIPS OF THE ORGANIZATION

Whether the relationships are member-member, member-staff, or staff-staff, it is critical for a new leadership team member to get up-to-speed quickly on the interpersonal dynamics at play in the organization. Often, current leaders are reticent to share relational information because they want to avoid creating bias for the new team member. However, unknowingly stepping into a fraught situation can have a negative impact on both the new leader and the organization. Proactively sharing relational information will allow the new leader to more deftly maneuver and set him/her up for greater success.

Finally, all members of the leadership team have the responsibility to create an inclusive environment for the new leader - inviting him/her into conversations, asking for perspectives, and helping him/her find and work within the right “lane” in the organization. The new leader “doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.” The more information other members of the team can share, the more quickly the new team member will be able to make a significant positive impact on the organization.