You might go into a new job thinking you’ll take charge in just a few days. But it actually takes the average manager 21 months to transition from a cost to the company to an asset, according to the Corporate Executive Board.
That is, it takes almost two years for most managers to become competent leaders who don’t need much supervision from their own boss.
Northwestern University professor William White says that his experience has shown him that this applies to not just managers, but employees of all levels. He teaches that a “power onboarding” plan created in between jobs can cut that path to leadership down to just around nine months.
He says that ideally, you will have at least a month to prepare for a new job, but you can do an abbreviated version of the following even if you just have a few days to work with.
Here’s White’s advice on how to make the most of your time in between jobs, as well as your first few weeks at your new one:
Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.
“Reflection is the most valuable thing you can do in the time before a new job,” White tells us. If you have copies of your performance reviews from previous jobs, find and collect them together. Scrutinize each one and make note of how you have developed both strengths and weaknesses. Look for patterns.
After analysing your performance at your previous jobs, take the time to write a plan for your transition. White provides templates in his class, though they’re all based on determining how you want to be perceived at your new company. The exercise will allow you to both avoid making recurring bad habits and highlight your greatest talents.
Determine what aspects of your new job require skills that you have not exercised in the past. For example, your promotion may now put you in charge of a team, which requires you to make weekly presentations. Now would be a good time to start working on your public speaking skills.
Get comfortable with your new boss.
“It’s natural to have a level of apprehension on your first day,” White says, “but ‘power onboarding’ can reduce that fear.”
He recommends meeting with your new boss a few weeks before starting your new job to take some pressure off yourself (ideally, you’d meet 30 days before your first day). Take the time to break the ice and get to know each other a little bit, but even more importantly, learn how your new manager works. Ask them questions like when they come into the office and when they leave, how often they like to meet, and how they like to communicate throughout the day.
The purpose of this talk is to eliminate trial-and-error and make the adaptation to your new boss’ work style as painless as possible.
Also use this opportunity to ask them who you will be working with beyond your immediate team. You can use the time before your first day to meet with someone in another department, such as an HR rep, to answer any questions you may have about the work process.
Realise that as soon as you walk into your new office, all of your coworkers will immediately be making judgments of you within just a few minutes of meeting you — it’s human nature.
White points to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s behavioural science research that says that the two most important factors of a person’s perception of you is based on your warmth and competence. By being friendly and warm, you open yourself up to building trust with new people. By being competent at your job, you communicate power. White says that it’s expected that you will make some mistakes regarding competency in your new role, but there’s never an excuse to do something that will lower your new coworkers’ respect for you.
White says that you’ll never be able to change where you fundamentally fall on the introversion and extroversion spectrum. You can and should, however, figure out what a good balance is for your first few weeks at your new company so that you can establish new relationships.
He says that since a new job is often the result of a promotion that comes with more prestige and responsibilities, it sets up the opportunity for negative personality traits to shine through. According to White, two of the most common mistakes he’s found among employees at new jobs is that they’re either too cocky and off-putting or too focused on their work and ignorant of the world around them. Figure out your tendencies and be mindful of falling into any traps.
And finally, “Go in with the right attitude,” White says. “Know that you’re there to make a contribution.”
If you’d like more direction on how to create your own power onboarding plan, as well as what long-term steps you should take on your path to leadership, you can check out all of the videos and reading materials in White’s class until November 29.
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