How to be successful in your new IT leadership job

Starting a new IT leadership job can be an exciting time in your life. Yet it can also lead to disaster if you don’t have an onboarding plan to ensure your success.

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Congratulations!  You’re about to start that new IT leadership job you’ve worked so hard to get. 

You may have read my earlier post about whether to accept the offer, and you’ve made the decision to move forward.

You’re now mentally transitioning and seeing yourself in your new role.  As excited as you are, you’re probably nervous about getting started and making a positive impression.  You have some perspective about the challenges ahead and perhaps some ideas on how you might approach them.

But before you jump in too quickly, read the rest of this post.  It may save you from limiting your success and possibly derailing your career.

You’ve landed on Mars

Starting in a new IT leadership role, especially in a different company, can be a stressful time in your life.  You’re stepping into an unfamiliar world where everything is different:  the people, the culture, and the challenges.  Even the industry and technologies may be new to you.

And during this time you are under a microscope: your new manager is keenly watching your performance. Your team members are making judgments about your leadership abilities.  Your business partners and other stakeholders are expecting you to deliver solutions to solve their business problems.

Yet it is critical that you make the best impression right away.  These first few months can shape your success at the company; and may have a lasting impact on your career.

What have you done for me lately?

The problem I see with most IT leaders starting a new job is that they haven’t given much thought to getting started and setting the stage for their success. 

They show up for that first day on the new job and quickly get sucked into putting out fires like dealing with chronic technical problems or managing people performance issues.

Before they realize it, 90 days have gone by and they have very little to show for it.  Their manager wonders whether they made the right choice.  Their team members have seen little in the way of strategic leadership. And while some technical or performance issues may have been made better, these may not have been the right priorities for the new IT leader to focus on – so the business stakeholders are feeling doubtful about this new leader’s credibility.

You need a plan

Starting a new IT leadership role without having a startup plan in place is a sure recipe for disaster.  Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days, remarked:

Leaders, regardless of their level, are most vulnerable in their first few months in a new position. They lack detailed knowledge of the challenges they will face and what it will take to succeed in meeting them.

You need to have an onboarding plan that addresses the key things that are going to make you successful.

Own and drive your success

So what goes into your 90-day onboarding plan?  A lot of great advice has been written on this topic; but not necessarily from the perspective of an IT leader. 

I’ve listed below a number of important goals you'll want to focus on during your first 90 days. I’ll be delving into these areas in upcoming posts. 

  • Listen, learn, and validate: conduct information interviews across your sphere of influence. Document and validate your findings. Be sure to acknowledge the positive and identify areas for improvement.
  • Focus on the people: get to know your team; build relationships with your business partners and other stakeholders; understand the politics and power bases.
  • Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses: evaluate the strengths you bring to this new role and how you can leverage them to drive your success.  Identify where you need to shore up your technical, leadership, or business knowledge and create a strategy to quickly get up to speed.
  • Ask for feedback: don’t assume anything! Be sure to ask for constructive feedback from your manager, direct reports, business partners, and other stakeholders.  This feedback will help you realize your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can make necessary adjustments.
  • Find mentors and allies: you can’t go this alone.  You need support and guidance from people who are going to have your back.  One place to start is to ask your manager who would be good mentors for you and start building relationships with those people.
  • Find and deliver a meaningful quick win: your informational interviews are sure to uncover issues or opportunities that would deliver a quick win for you and your team. You want to make sure this quick win is important to your business partners or other stakeholders, and that you can successfully deliver on your promise. Not only will this quick win build confidence within your team, it will also make your manager look good and gain the respect of your business constituents.

If you’ve recently started a new IT leadership job, what one piece of advice can you give other people in a similar situation?

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