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  • Tamar Balkin

What Are The Challenges And Opportunities For New Leaders?

"You feel like a candle in a hurricane

Just like a picture with a broken frame

Alone and helpless, like you've lost your fight

But you'll be all right, you'll be all right

Cause when push comes to shove

You taste what you're made of

You might bend till you break

'Cause it's all you can take

On your knees, you look up

Decide you've had enough

You get mad, you get strong

Wipe your hands, shake it off

Then you stand, then you stand"

Stand by Rascal Flatts (click here for the music)

Photo by Ryland Dean on Unsplash

‘Whilst I’m grateful for this opportunity now, if only I had had coaching when I was promoted….Things would not have got so messy’

Coaching client

Australian readers would be aware that in NSW we have a new Premier, before he was even sworn in there was speculation about what he would do and who he is. Whilst not every leader has the same scrutiny and media attention as politicians, there are definitely challenges and opportunities that face all leaders. Irrespective of whether you are an internal or external appointment most people in the organisation will have preconceived ideas about you. Assumptions may be made about the following:

  • How you will behave in certain situations;

  • Your views on particular topics;

  • Who influences you;

  • What will influence you;

  • Your knowledge of the organisation, industry, business, stakeholders, and the competition;

  • Your values, priorities, and ethics;

  • Your opinions on key issues;

  • Your general style as a leader.

What factors influence the assumptions people make about a new leader?

First impressions

Whilst we shouldn’t ‘judge a book by its cover’ or make snap judgements based on first impressions social psychologists have found that typically we do. (click here for my blog on first impressions).

Implicit leadership theories

Implicit leadership theories are the beliefs individual's hold of the traits and behaviours that characterise a good leader. According to the research people have prototypes in their mind of effective leadership that serves as a benchmark. These prototypes include attributes like intelligence, sensitivity, dedication, and dynamism, some of the attributes are considered necessary others complementary. What complicates this approach is that the relative importance of the leadership attributes may be influenced by the context. Never the less, the closer the match between the leaders’ observed behaviour to a follower’s idealised image of a leader the more positive that leader will be evaluated. In addition the greater the followers’ identification with the leader, the higher their organisational commitment, job satisfaction, and well-being.

Individual factors

Some research indicates that variables like, age, work experience, life experience and personality will influence how leaders are perceived. For example researchers have found that older followers view a change in leadership more negatively than younger followers.

What is it really like for the new leader?

New leaders report that they feel both isolated and the centre of attention at the same time. Most leaders are aware of the old adage “what got you here won’t get you there” depicting the large gap in skills and competencies as people progress. Unfortunately, studies show that two years after executive transitions, anywhere between 27 and 46 percent of promotions are regarded as failures or disappointments. The key issues that cause havoc in highly capable intelligent leaders pertain to politics, culture, and people.

So what should a new leader do?

Define your ethics and values

Regular readers would know the importance of clear values on wellbeing and leadership capability (click here for my blog on values) and the challenges associated with values clash in the workplace (click here for my blog on clashing values). Promotions increase the requirement for independent decision making in ‘grey areas’, and uncharted territory. These complex decisions typically have large impacts on people, finance, customers and reputation. The best guidepost for a leader is clarity of personal values and ethics.

Know your individual purpose

“ Purpose is this idea of having a sense of direction, intention, and understanding that the contribution you’re making is going somewhere.” Naina Dhingra Despite many people having an awareness of the purpose of their work, the ability to articulate it succinctly is essential for a new leader. Research has demonstrated it is a powerful tool for both motivation and prioritisation.

"Purpose answers the question: What is the final result of my work on the world?"

Dan Cable

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“Just try your best Try everything you can And don't you worry what they tell themselves When you're away”

The Middle by Jimmy Eat World (click here for the music)


Regular readers would know that we are poor judges of the impact of our behaviour on others and it would be foolhardy for a new leader to assume that because they got a promotion they have no areas of development. Self-awareness is a life long process, especially as life and responsibilities change, so take the time to regularly find trusted sources of useful feedback. (Click here for my blog on feedback)

Act on the feedback

Mentors, formal and informal learning can equip new leaders with the skills they are lacking. Executive coaching increases self-awareness and enables bespoke long term sustained behaviour change necessary for effective leadership.


“In his inaugural address Roosevelt promised prompt, decisive action, and he conveyed some of his own unshakable self-confidence to millions of Americans listening on radios throughout the land. “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper,” he asserted, adding, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Dhruthi Dev Gurudev


Final thoughts

Students of history would remember FDR as the president who wanted to have a major impact on his country during the first 100 days of his presidential Term. Part of his legacy was to set an expectation that future new leaders would be judged on their achievements in their first 3 months or so. When you next rise through the ranks or promote someone how will you ensure success?


References: Tavares, G.M., Sobral, F., Goldszmidt, R. and Araújo, F. (2018). Opening the Implicit Leadership Theories’ Black Box: An Experimental Approach with Conjoint Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. ‌ Chong, E. and Wolf, H. (2010). Factors influencing followers’ perception of organisational leaders. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(5), pp.402–419. Eurich, T. (2017). Insight the power of self-awareness in a a self-deluded world. London Macmillan. (n.d.). How to unleash the power of purpose at work and in life | McKinsey. [online] Available at: Cronshaw, S.F. and Lord, R.G. (1987). Effects of categorization, attribution, and encoding processes on leadership perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(1), pp.97–106. (n.d.). A Tribute to FDR – The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation. [online] Available at: Ma, S., Seidl, D., & Guérard, S. 2015. The New CEO and the Post-Succession Process: An Integration of Past Research and Future Directions. International Journal of Management Reviews. 17(4): 460-482. McKinsey & Company. (2018). Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles. [online] Available at:

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