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Making a career change can be overwhelming, stressful but also exhilarating [27-11-2012]  
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AS the year draws to a close, people will start to think of a career change, so I thought of sharing a few tips for the executives looking to take on new roles, goals or careers.

In your transition to a new role, it's likely that you will have two goals in mind. First, you want to challenge and develop yourself. Second, you want to contribute value to the organisation.

Fortunately, new assignments that build and broaden your experience tend to enhance capability for the organisation too organisations get new leadership to energise the company and advance the strategy, and you get a new career opportunity.

That's the ideal. But the reality often falls short.

Transitions are tenuous. The first 18 months in a new role are a proving ground. New leaders derail with alarming frequency and everyone wants to feel assured that they made the right decision your organisation hiring you, and you choosing this new role.

You can improve your chances of making a smooth transition by proving you can contribute value sooner than expected. Here are a few things you can consider:

Focus on your own assets. Be aware of your mental model how your confidence has served you and when over-confidence can get in the way.

Additionally, consider how you can stay cognizant of your strengths, weaknesses, and how they operate in this new context.

Focus on your team, your position, and the new environment because it's through your team that you will be able to make your impact.

Based on my experience, often people don't succeed as a result of cultural misfit and not because they can't do the job.

Finally, focus on your vision for what's possible, the change you want to bring, and the contribution you want to make.

Here are some ideas that will help you maximise your first 90 days.

The transition paradox

You got the job offer or promotion. It is at this precise moment, when your confidence is at its peak, that you need to pay the most attention.

Cherish the moment but more importantly start preparing yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually for that new “partner” you've consciously chosen.

If you are entering a new corporate culture, set up your antennae. You may want to get some clarity around the following questions: How has the organisation responded to other change agents?

What are others' expectations of you in this role? You may have only a partial view that reflects the opinions of a few key people in the organisation.

It's critical that you also understand the expectations of your team and colleagues the people you will be interacting with first and most often.

Cultural differences between MNCs and local organisations can be overwhelming, even between different industries.

If you will be leading a team, ask the following: What are the dynamics of the team? Did anyone on the team want my job or advocate for someone else to get my job? Awareness of these areas can help you avoid potential land mines.

If you feel comfortable with your leadership style, ask yourself: “How well will my leadership style fit in this new situation?” It is not just a matter of whether your style works: it's about fit.

A collaborative, socially participative style, for example, may be too inefficient for an organisation in crisis or one that demands an extremely decisive approach.

Observe, learn and ask, then act but not before. Premature judgements or pre-judging people can lead to undesired outcomes later.

Take the time to pause, question, and reflect on what you might do differently in this role. Invest in the factors that you cannot take with you from your previous role... relationships, dynamics of your team, culture of the organisation, and the receptivity of the organisation to the new and different.

Most importantly, you want to know “who succeeds here” and when people fail, what trips them up?

Break the mould

Every role is shaped by the person in that role. Research has shown that the first person to hold a particular job, or a long-term predecessor in an established organisation, puts his or her stamp on the role so indelibly that it can determine the success or failure of those who follow.

One study revealed that leaders tend to be more successful in new positions if they exhibit qualities seen in the executives who held the roles previously even if their backgrounds were not typical for the role.

There are a few simple guidelines to follow if you are moving into an imprinted role:

Understand the impact of your predecessors. The best discovery you can do is to learn as much as you can about those who have gone before you in the role.

Ask questions. What legacy did your predecessors leave behind? What priorities did they spend most time on? How did they make their mark?

What were their towering strengths? How did the organisation evolve around them to complement their strengths and weaknesses?

Listen to stories. As you talk to people about the organisation and the role, the patterns and practices of those who held the role will tell you a great deal about their priorities, their focus, influence, interactions, and impact.

Look for organisational clues. A quick review of historical organisation charts will provide details as you examine the roles, titles, reporting relationships, tenure,and frequency of change.

Take note of how critical organisational decisions (acquisitions, down-sizings, new lines of business, expansions) were made. Understand how change initiatives were launched and how successful they were.

Understand your impact. You are assuming your new role in order to move the organisation forward from its current state. What qualities and characteristics of yours will need to be front and centre if you are to move these strategic priorities forward?

Whether you seek out a mentor or colleague or executive coach, find someone to help you articulate what you will intentionally bring to this role and how your unique strengths and weaknesses will have maximum impact.

Discover how the team you inherited is uniquely suited to complement your predecessor not you. Those who surround you now were chosen for a reason. They filled the gaps and allowed your predecessor's strengths to shine.

You need to learn how their current role came to be, how that role maximises their contribution (or not), and how their responsibilities intersected with their past boss. Determine who they are and what they do best can complement who you are and what you do best.

Create the role, don't just fill it. Be clear about the contribution you want to make and the legacy you want to leave behind.

By knowing your strengths you will focus your own time and energy on those aspects of the work where you can make the biggest impact.

Then build concentric circles around you. Determine who you need in your first-ring team to shore up your gaps and reinforce your strengths.

Executives who are about to assume a new role hold in their hands a perishable asset: the undivided attention of people. And this may be the most frequently squandered asset of newly transitioned executives.

This time of transition is the moment when all eyes are on you. It is an opportunity for you, the new leader, to set the stage for your vision and priorities.

Leaders underestimate their impact on people around them. The leader might think that people will give him or her some time to get acclimated before paying close attention and making judgments.

Not true. In fact, in those first weeks and months of a leader's tenure, people are paying rapt attention to his or her every move, word, and nuance, looking for clues about what they can expect.

Making the most of your leadership “moment” requires three things:

Know your message. Articulate the reasons you have assumed this role. Even though your vision will be imperfect in your first months on the job, you know what you uniquely bring to this role and how that intersects withthe needs of the organisation. What will the strategy be?

What changes will be required in the organisation to effectively achieve the strategy? How will you lead the organisation toward that objective?

Understand the channels through which you are being observed as your every word and action will be subject to scrutiny.

Be a keen observer of your own words, actions, decisions, tone, and expressions to ensure that your intended message is consistently coming through every channel.

Align your message and your behaviour. Are your key messages being reinforced by your early decisions?

By the way you allocate resources? By the stories you tell? By the agenda you set foryour meetings? By the way you spend your time? By the talent you select onyour team?

People have to be paying attention for any meaningful leadership message to be absorbed and followed.

When you take on a new leadership role, recognise and exploit the opportunity to use this crucial moment to set the stage for your leadership.

Times of transition can be overwhelming and stressful but also exhilarating. By balancing your confidence with humility, you can focus your attention carefully on potential problem areas and find ways to accelerate your contribution in your new role.

Now go seize your leadership moment and all the best for a successful 2013.

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