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Building Effective Relationships as a New Executive: Navigating Structural Challenges

As a new executive, it’s common to face structural challenges that can lead to a rocky start. While many people tend to attribute executive failures to individual missteps, the reality is that there’s an underlying structural trap that can snare even the most competent executives. The good news is that this challenge can be navigated with a deliberate approach that acknowledges its difficulties. This article will explore some of the topics related to this challenge, including:

1. Understanding whether you’re supported, tolerated, or resented
2. Navigating implicit power dynamics
3. Bridging narratives across different perspectives
4. Avoiding anchoring on previous experience
5. Fostering an alignment habit
6. Focusing on a small number of changes at a given time
7. Embracing transient conflict and preventing persistent conflict
8. Surviving a panicking peer executive

Understanding Your Relationship with Other Functions

One of the biggest challenges for new executives is figuring out where they stand with other functions within the company. While the most effective executives are proactively supported by their peers, CEO, and functional team, this doesn’t always happen. In some cases, executives are tolerated or even resented by other functions.

To determine the status of your relationship with other functions, identify whether they’re proactively making efforts to help you succeed (supported), indifferent to your work (tolerated), or view your requests as a distraction (resented). If you’re unsure where you stand, it’s essential to unpack the most frequent causes of damaged relationships and how to resolve them.

Navigating Power Dynamics

Even if you’re committed to supporting your team, it’s natural to come into a new job anchored on your CEO’s evaluation of how your function is performing. CEOs typically hire new executives to solve problems, and they’ve likely been telling you all about the issues. However, they may not be telling you everything that’s going well, and their diagnosis of the problem may have gaps.

While it’s important to listen to the CEO, Board of Directors, and your peers’ perspectives, it’s also crucial to remain open to other new perspectives. Executives who underestimate the impact of power dynamics can be prone to treating the top-level symptoms as if they’re the underlying causes, leading to superficial and misguided solutions. Instead, it’s essential to listen widely before solving any problems.

Bridging Different Narratives

The most effective executives have a remarkable skill of weaving different perspectives into a unified understanding. When you run into a complex problem, slow down to consider many different perspectives before attempting to solve the issue. This leadership creates a culture of cross-functional partnership and is an effective way to build supportive relationships across functions and executive peers.

Avoiding Anchoring on Previous Experience

Many new executives alienate their peers and functions by assuming that their new company will work the same way that their old company did, causing them to run into walls. Avoid this by watching how others solve problems in your company and asking them why they solved them that way. Building this habit will help you integrate into your new role smoothly.

Fostering an Alignment Habit

You should build a habit of inviting feedback and making sure you receive it well. This might involve reaching out to participants in an executive meeting to ask if there’s anything you could have done better or not done at all. Even when feedback isn’t particularly helpful, thank the person and ask follow-up questions to better understand their perspective.

Focusing on a Small Number of Changes at a Given Time

One of the biggest mistakes new executives make is trying to make too many changes at once. It’s essential to focus on a small number of changes at a given time to avoid overwhelming your team and ensuring changes are implemented effectively.

Embracing Transient Conflict and Preventing Persistent Conflict

Healthy conflict is necessary to achieve the best outcomes, but conflict that persists can be damaging to relationships and the company’s bottom line. It’s important to address persistent conflict and embrace transient conflict, which is healthy and can lead to better outcomes.

Surviving a Panicking Peer Executive

It’s not uncommon for peer executives to panic, which can be contagious and lead to other executives following suit. It’s essential to remain calm and focused on the facts when this happens, understand why the executive is panicking, and work together to address the underlying issue.

Navigating Structural Challenges of Being a New Executive

Navigating the structural challenges of being a new executive is difficult, but it can be done with the right approach. By understanding your relationships with other functions, navigating power dynamics, bridging different narratives, avoiding anchoring on previous experience, fostering an alignment habit, focusing on changes, embracing transient conflict, and surviving panicked peer executives, you’ll be able to build healthy relationships that support you through your tenure and achieve meaningful results.

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Sofia HMICH, the Founder of Future Positive Capital, Speaking at Bpifrance Inno Generation Event