The Thoughtful Leader

Monthly Archives: February 2010

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What To Do When You’re New

I was coaching a business executive last week who was relatively new to her company’s management team.  She had worked for another company in the same industry for twenty years, and had been considered a particularly gifted leader there.  When there were some shifts in the direction that company was going in, she decided to look for another job.  This was a carefully considered non-impulsive decision, and she took her time exploring professional opportunities before settling on the new position.  Her references were excellent, she and the CEO of the new company connected well on an interpersonal level, and he hired her specifically for her leadership skills.

The management team of the new company welcomed her in a very friendly way, and she jumped right into her new job, energetically expressing her thoughts and feelings in meetings about how things were run and the changes that needed to take place.  Strangely enough the management team did not seem interested in her views and opinions and, although still friendly, they tended to ignore her comments in meetings.  She had been hired for her leadership skills, but no one seemed to want her to lead them in new directions.  What wasn’t working for her?

As we explored this problem in a coaching session, she recognized that her leadership in the previous company had evolved over time.  She hadn’t started out a leader, but had gradually formed relationships in which she had proved her competence, reliability, flexibility and vision over many years.  In the new company she thought she could hit the ground running and be the leader she had evolved into in the prior company.  Through coaching she learned that leadership is a relationship process and that it would take time and the development of trust and mutual respect before she could become a true relationship leader in the new company.

Does this seem obvious to you?  Not necessarily.  If you think that leadership consists of a collection of individual characteristics and traits, then you may think this woman should have been able to become an instant leader in her new company.  If you know that leadership is a relationship process, you surely understand what her “next steps” need to be in the new company.

Katharine Gratwick Baker, February 24, 2010


Who leads the Canada geese?

On a cold grey day last week I heard the unmistakable honking of Canada geese overhead and looked up in time to see a ragged V flapping rapidly through the clouds in a northerly direction. There were perhaps 30 geese – 15 on each side – pushing the wind aside with strong wide-arced sweeps of their wings. Of course I looked instantly for the lead goose at the apex of the V, the top goose, the one with all the best leadership traits who knew where they were going, and would pull all the others along to springtime in Canada. But as I gazed high into the sky, the lead goose gave way and another, apparently equally strong, moved into the lead, and then another and another. The V kept going dead-eye north, but the leadership kept changing. Apparently they all knew where they were going, and each goose was both self-defined and a collaborative member of the larger V. Anxious times for Canada geese as the season changes and they need to look for forage and nesting places in the north. But they looked pretty calm and clear to me about where they were headed, and their honking had a celebratory sound.
Katharine Gratwick Baker