In the decade that I spent studying leadership transitions and helping leaders to accelerate themselves into new roles, my views about what is really critical shifted considerably. Early on, I believed that new leaders gained leverage by putting in place the right strategies, structures, and systems. I approached transitions as an engineer would approach a challenging design problem, advising leaders to identify the right goals, develop a supporting strategy, align the architecture of the organization, and figure out what projects to pursue to secure early wins.
As my understanding of the realities confronting leaders in transition deepened, however, I came to believe that relationships – with bosses, peers, direct reports and external constituencies – are as great or greater sources of leverage. This realization elevated relationships, and the energy they can mobilize (or drain from you), to the forefront of my thinking about how to help leaders enter and gain momentum in challenging new roles.
This is not to say, of course, that strategies, structures, and systems are unimportant; usually they are critical. But if you hope to put in place the right strategies, structures, and systems, you must first secure victory on the relationship front. This means building credibility with influential players, gaining agreement on goals, and securing their commitment to devote their energies to helping you achieving those goals. Leverage through relationships is an essential foundation for effectiveness in a new leadership role. Put another way, I have come to believe that leaders negotiate their way to success in their new roles.