3 ways to give yourself a ‘behaviour makeover’ after getting a job promotion

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker, an executive coaching firm. Harrison Monarth
  • Harrison Monarth is an executive coach and the CEO and founder of Gurumaker, a leadership development service.
  • When his clients land job promotions, Monarth says he helps them analyse how they have to shift their workplace behaviour and habits to be successful in their new role.
  • It’s wise to examine your biases towards certain colleagues, avoid playing favourites, and be more assertive when making decisions.
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For many recently promoted leaders, the rules of behaviour change. Behaviours that were previously accepted as normal or typical, may now draw negative attention, including those behaviours that may have been beneficial in one’s former role.

Of course, “behaviour,” unlike performance, is elusive and perceptual, and not necessarily part of a leader’s new job description. But it is part and parcel of the new role and can affect both credibility and personal effectiveness.

“There is a formal narrative, and there is an informal narrative that exists in the executive corridor,” Ken Caruso, former vice president of human resources for McGraw-Hill Financial, once told me, meaning that perceptions matter as much as performance, even if the former is hard to define and objectively measure.

Given these high stakes, newly promoted leaders should assess their behaviour to gauge its value in a new work environment. Here are two examples of clients who learned first-hand that a shift in their behaviours was needed to succeed in their new roles.

Make your own decisions

Allison Roberts had just been promoted from First Officer to Captain at a major US airline, and sought our executive coaching to boost her leadership skills and gain confidence for her new role. Many of her male peers had served in the military and thus had leadership training and experience. Allison also felt her small stature and soft voice to be in stark contrast to her male colleagues’ executive presence. She wanted to close that gap, but without becoming inauthentic.

An anecdote Allison shared with me during our sessions illustrates just how quickly an elevated platform changes perceptions and expectations of a leader’s behaviour. On a recent flight as part of her Captain training, a flight attendant entered the cockpit with lunch and made the usual offer to both Allison, in the copilot position, and the Captain: “Chicken or beef?” Allison answered, “It doesn’t matter.” After the flight attendant had departed, the Captain said to her, “Listen, I really need you to be more assertive. Next time pick something!”

Allison thought the Captain was rude, and defended her response as both being the truth and showing her characteristic flexibility. I asked her to consider the perspective of her colleague, whose job was to help Allison develop as a leader.

It turns out he may have been right to focus on her decision-making. According to the CEO Genome Project, a 10-year study by ghSMART involving 360-degree interviews with 17,000 C-suite executives, there are four standout behaviours that differentiate the most successful CEOs from everyone else. They are engaging, adapt proactively to changing circumstances, deliver results reliably, and — you guessed it — make decisions with speed and conviction. In fact, senior executives who made a bad decision that could later be corrected were perceived better in the eyes of others than those who were either too slow to decide or lacked decisiveness altogether.

Remember, do not automatically let others make decisions for you, whether large or small. Doing so can create the perception that you are not prepared or willing to take a stand.

Examine your biases to be inclusive and fair

When another client Jeff Kaplan was promoted to executive managing director at a major financial services company, his leadership team almost doubled in size. In his former role, he valued loyalty and socialised with his team members at work and outside, lifting morale, and creating team spirit.

But when he continued this behaviour with his original team members after his promotion, he created the impression that he had an Inner Circle, a cadre of favourites, alienating newer team members.

This caused strife between the camps and throttled collaboration. While the warm friendships Jeff forged with members of his original smaller team helped create a collegial atmosphere, this approach is rarely sustainable with larger ones.

Research by Naomi Eisenberger, a UCLA neuroscientist, showed that people who feel “left out” experience psychological pain that affects the brain in a way similar to physical pain, often leading to disengagement and decreased commitment.

During our coaching conversations, Jeff revamped his team-building efforts. He focused on shared values, on collaboration between new and original team members, and on exercising better judgment in managing relationships.

Guard against playing favourites

Check your meeting schedule and notice if you might be favouring certain employees with attention and resources. Acknowledge contributions from all team members, publicly when possible. Root out your bias in favour of extroverted contributors, and equally pay attention to able but quieter introverts and internal processors.

Allison and Jeff faced particular behavioural challenges as they moved up the ladder. Still, all rising executives should conduct periodic behavioural assessments in a strategic context. Behaviours and communication styles that worked in your favour and helped you succeed in a previous role, may no longer fit the new context, with an entirely different set of stakeholders’ expectations.

Increased self-awareness, openness to observer feedback, and curiosity will help newly promoted leaders hit the ground running, with stubbed toes and emotional bruises kept to a minimum.

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker and author of

Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO

. An executive coach, he teaches C-suite leaders, senior executives, high potential managers. and other top professionals effective leadership and positive behaviour change for professional and organizational success. For more information, visit his website
and connect on LinkedIn and Twitter @HarrisonMonarth.