8 Tips to Succeed in an Independent Executive Role
Whether you have taken your independent role as a temporary position or are hoping to make it permanent, succeeding in an independent role has a distinct set of challenges. And, no matter your background and experience, you should not expect to face the same challenges in every role.
Independent executives are often called into organizations or teams that are in flux; they’re going through a period of change, and the dynamics will continue to ebb and flow during your tenure. So, your role is both to lead the business with a fresh perspective and to lead the people on your team with a sense of stability.
Below are some tips to guide you toward success.
On-board into the role – If possible, meet with incumbents who can help you gain an understanding of the current status of projects and responsibilities and attend a few hand-off meetings before you begin.
Commit to the Role – Some independent leaders take the approach of not rocking the boat or just keeping the lights on. However, you have a real-time responsibility to this team. If you can, take the time to provide feedback to team members to help them improve. If it is within the scope of your responsibilities, make any hard decisions and have any difficult discussions that will benefit the team and the organization.
Likewise, celebrate the successes of your team. Fully invest yourself in the success of this team. Provide positive feedback and recognition when warranted. Keeping this balance may also help build a personal connection with team members. Get to know the business and team you will be leading.
Set clear expectations – Understand what is expected of you and share your expectations for taking on this responsibility. Will you have goals and KPIs you must reach? What support can you expect/will be expected of you? Will there be regular check-ins, timely feedback, and additional admin support?
As You Go
Listen – Most teams in need of an independent leader are established. As the newcomer, it’s important for you to take the time to get a full understanding of everything the team has been doing and how that relates to the success of the business. Be curious about everything. You want to know what rhythms of the business exist, what the opportunities are, what challenges and risks the team is facing and what the priorities are.
Learn – Often, independent leaders have been selected for their leadership skills. With this being the case, it’s critical for you to acknowledge what you don’t know. It can be tempting to pretend you understand something instead of asking questions but that will slow down progress and erode the team’s confidence in you.
Be sure to gain a fundamental understanding of how the team operates, otherwise, your opportunity to make a positive impact on the team is limited. So, embrace learning new things. Go ahead and ask questions like, “What is that?” or “What does that mean?”
Embrace Ambiguity – Given that you may not know everything, focus on making the best decisions for the team.
Start by gathering as much information as possible and make decisions based on what you have learned. If learning new information causes a change in course later on, don’t be afraid to do so. You’re not going to have all the answers, but your role as a leader is still to make the best decisions for your team with the information you have at the time.
Communicate all around – Ensure that you have regular touch points with whomever you are reporting to and others who are critical to your performance in the independent role, including those who report to you. This regular communication works both ways to ensure that everyone around you knows your expectations, needs, and ideas and vice versa.
Off-board out of the role – Once a decision is made on who will move into the role permanently, and if it isn’t you, then you need a clear plan for exiting the role. Just as you did with your onboarding, a clear and clean hand-off of responsibilities and projects is key.