Issues & Observations
Taking Your Leadership
to the Next Level
Scott Eblin
he transition from manager to
executive-level leader can be tricky and
treacherous. Research has found that
about 40 percent of new executives
leave their jobs within the first eighteen
months. The organizational toll of such
failure is high: a recent Harvard
Business School study found that the
cost of a failed executive hire or pro-
motion can run above $2.5 million.
Why do so many new executives
fail? What separates successful new
executives from those who don’t suc-
ceed? These are questions I have
asked as both an executive and an
executive coach. In conducting inter-
views on success and failure with
nearly thirty seasoned executives over
the past year, I have come to the con-
clusion that there is an important
truth that rising executives need to
keep in mind: what got you there
probably won’t keep you there.
Someone once defined insanity as
doing things the way you’ve always
done them and expecting different
results. Successful new executives
learn to adjust their behavior to
achieve what is expected. To succeed
at their new level, new executives need
the courage and confidence to pick up
behaviors that align with the expected
results and to let go of other behaviors
that no longer serve them well.
Consider the case of Amy, a rising
star in a financial services company,
who was recently promoted from
director to vice president. Since the
day she joined the company, she has
had a reputation as a brilliant analyst
and project manager who always
delivers excellent results.
Amy has been a vice president for
four months and feels as though she
is paddling hard to keep her head
above water. Many changes came
with the promotion: three new prod-
uct lines in addition to the two she
had grown and overseen as a director;
a larger team, which has been achiev-
ing less-than-optimal results; meet-
ings with peers in which she needs to
have a strong handle on the broader
business; and higher expectations
from her senior vice president, which
she can sense but not clearly define.
Amy’s dilemma crystallized for
her in her first quarterly business
review with the company CEO and
his other direct reports. To prepare for
that session, Amy had her staff work
for weeks on a thirty-slide PowerPoint
presentation. But when her turn came
to speak, she sensed that she was los-
ing the group about three slides into
the presentation. She sped through the
next several slides, skipped some in
the middle, and attempted to salvage
her main points by jumping ahead to
the summary slide.
Amy left her first quarterly review
with her confidence shaken. Other
than what she said during her presen-
tation, she had not participated in the
roundtable conversation. She felt that
she was playing at a level she was not
ready for.
What got Amy to the executive
level was her knowledge and her abil-
ity to get things done. When it came
to crunch time, she always pulled
through by bearing down, working
harder, and knowing more about the
situation than anyone else. Since
becoming an executive, she has been
falling back on these same habits.
She needs to let go of some of the
habits that served her well earlier and
to adopt some new behaviors. Her
troubling performance in the quar-
terly review offers some clues to
three behaviors she needs to let go of.
Using One-Size-Fits-All
The higher that leaders rise, the more
they need to custom fit their commu-
nications to the audience. As a man-
ager Amy dealt mostly with details.
That shaped her style of communicat-
ing with her team and her boss. Now
that she’s communicating with other
executives, she needs to let go of her
old approach. In her quarterly review,
she put the emphasis on a PowerPoint
presentation; it would have been bet-
ter to concentrate on what she needed
to accomplish with her audience. In
preparing for meetings with senior
executives and other key stakeholders,
executives need to ask themselves
questions such as these: Who is the
audience for my message? Where are
Editor’s note: Issues & Observations is
a venue for CCL staff members and
associates to express their personal
views about leadership.

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