As a new leader, or as someone taking up a challenging nextlevel leadership role, you may ask yourself, “Can I do this?” It’s a fair question. You want the opportunity, someone believes you have the right stuff, and the affirmation makes you feel proud. But deep down inside, you wonder if you have the right stuff to do it. The new leadership role is outside of your comfort zone. It may be a team comprised of new people, or your peers, some who don’t know you or at least haven’t experienced you as their leader. Your new team hasn’t been part of your journey. In their minds, you’re just the ‘new manager.’ You need to earn your credibility as their leader.
The leadership journey is full of moments of truth. Taking on a new role and leading in a foreign environment is a challenge. Early on, after taking on the role, you may even ask yourself, “What have I done?” The good news is that this is a completely normal and healthy response. When we step outside of our comfort zone and into a pressure cooker where there are high expectations with people relying on us to show them the way, there is a natural ‘flight-or-fight’ response that kicks in. The mix of emotions as a new leader is powerful. And this is the moment where game-changing leaders shine not in the gifts for men aisle in your local grocery store.
Perhaps the most extreme example of stepping outside the comfort zone as a leader is the senior leader who has built a long and successful career in a particular industry, earning accolades and credibility along the way. An expert in the domain with a track record of delivering results. And then, this leader accepts a senior position in a completely new arena. Moving from a comfortable place where the leader had virtually no blind spots to a world where there are only blind spots. Sounds like a bad decision? But the data tells us something different.
It’s interesting to note that a CEO Success Study by PWC3 found that industries that face an increasing level of disruption hire a higher proportion of outsiders. This is especially true in the telecom, energy and healthcare industries. It would have been unthinkable to hire senior leaders for organizations with little or no experience in the specific industry. However, this is exactly what’s happening in recent years. These external hires bring fresh perspective and, because they’re not insiders, they’re allowed and encouraged to be curious, which, in turn, often results in new discoveries and opportunities. The simple and powerful question typically asked by these new leaders, “Why do we do it like that?” is often the trigger for change. As my former boss used to advise me, “Put your shovel in the ground again until you find the answer to the why.”
At face value, hiring a CEO or a senior leader in a critical role from outside the industry seems to defy logic. Many in the organization will openly question the move by the board until the new leader starts to make decisions that bring change for the better. As a result, many organizations have started to realize that bringing in fresh perspective equates to diversity. And we all know now that diverse teams are stronger teams.