10 Steps to Avoid Failure of New Leaders

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, up to 50% of newly appointed executives fail within the first 18 months of being in their new role. As with solving any issue, the first step is to acknowledge the problem and make sure that everyone is aligned to avoid the necessary time, energy, and cost to deal with a ‘bad-hire’.

It starts well before the offer is made; in fact, even before the search begins. Here are Ten Steps to Avoid Failure of New Leaders that I’ve discovered after being involved in countless interviews, many onboarding programs, and sadly, some difficult discussions of a wrong fit.

During the Recruitment Phase

  1. Identify, document, and socialize within the organization the expectations and measurements of success for this position. Make sure all senior leaders support the metric and communicate it with all peers – both direct and indirect. Responsibilities within organizations are inter-dependent, and knowledge of someone’s role might reveal gaps in product or service delivery and also manages expectations at every level.
  2. Look for candidates who have been successful at achieving these expectations and metrics at other organizations. Integrate this into the interview process requiring candidates to provide examples of how they were successful in this area in the past.
  3. Have all final candidates complete a leadership assessment to learn their leadership strengths and weaknesses. An objective viewpoint by such companies as Talent Plus will provide the top talents, hidden strengths, and the probability of success of the individual, and will be a critical window into how the candidate thinks and behaves in a leadership role.
  4. Internal employees who have been identified as a future successor, should sit in on meetings, take over projects, and be involved in the decision-making process, even asked what they would do if they were ‘in charge.’ Just like HRH Queen Elizabeth is grooming the Prince of Wales to be King, involve successors in all aspects of the job so they get an understanding of what’s involved and how an expert would handle it.

First week on the job

  1. During the first week on the job, ensure the new leader attends HR training and orientation sessions that are mandatory for all employees of the company. This will help the new leader to understand the culture, a key area that is often cited as a down-fall of newly appointed executives.
  2. Set up a meeting with their boss to review in detail expectations and measurements of success. Make sure all questions are answered and that there is a clear understanding of what is required. And most importantly, put this in writing and review with the new leader on a regular basis.

First six months on the job

  1. Establish a weekly meeting between the new leader and their boss to see how they are doing, what they are spending their time on, the plan for the upcoming week, and identifying obstacles that are getting in the way. Ideally, these meetings would be face-to-face, but a phone call will suffice. Over time, the frequency can diminish to bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly, but this time should be sacrosanct and maintained as a check-in and feedback session to review barriers and issues to getting the job done.
  2. Agreement by all, especially senior leadership, that the on-boarding process includes necessary time for observation and absorption of the organization’s systems, successes, and opportunities. Supporting this time of absorption will be an investment and will prevent new leaders from implementing change before they have a full understanding of the organization, including previous success.
  3. Focus on building relationships with peers, direct reports, and bosses, including providing networking opportunities and even orchestrating getting to know one another on a social level. This will begin to instill respect and trust and start to develop partnerships that will sustain long-term initiatives and times of disagreement.
  4. Invest in an executive coach who is a trusted advisor and can help navigate the pitfalls for a new leader.


Allow time for new leaders to get to know the people they work with (direct reports and peers) as well as the intangible culture of the organization (defined as ‘how things are done around here’). Giving them time to do this will increase the probability of success in their role and diminish the risk of failure as a new leader.


“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford

If you would like to hear more about how to reduce the failure rate for leaders, simply reach out to Jo-Anne at
[email protected]

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