Becoming a Leader

Senior Executive Coach Mike Martorella

In the Career Corner column of CEP's August issue, columnist Loraine Kasprzak, CMC, interviewed senior executive coach Mike Martorella to discuss how engineers can become successful leaders. CEO and founder of MMI Communication, Mike works one-on-one with senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies and major non-profit organizations.

A leader's first 30 through 90 days in the new role are crucial to success. Below, Mike shares his views on what a leader must do during that time.

The first 30 days: stepping up

During the first 30 days, a new leader's first priority should be to promote themselves. By that I mean they need to recognize that they were promoted into the senior executive role and they should no longer be doing the job they had before. They need to recognize that what made them successful to this point won't take them where they need to go as a senior executive. They need a whole new way of thinking and doing to succeed.

The leader also needs to start viewing the organization as a whole, not just at the project level. They must lead with a spirit of inquiry and ask questions to learn what needs to be done. A good idea is to learn who the organization's informal leaders are - every organization has them. These are the folks who can show a new leader the ropes and how things really get done.

The first 90 days: envision the future

In their first 90 days, it's important for the leader to envision themselves in the future - what do they want to have accomplished? Then a leader can create a plan to lead to this future.

The leader can reduce their plan down to 10 days, because the plan is more manageable when it's in bite-size chunks. A leader should keep a daily scorecard of what they accomplished and how it fits into their plan.

The leader must listen. They must find out who their people are and what is important to each. They can only find this out by listening and asking questions. The leader must shut down their internal filters - these are their preconceptions of what may or may not be true - and just listen.

This is also the time to build credibility by making and keeping small promises. The leader can ask, "What would it take to improve your job?" and then do something that matters, that will improve people's situations.

In the first 90 days, it's also about alignment - is the organization doing what it's supposed to be doing? What are the initiatives? Are they aligned with the overall organization? A successful leader has to help other people who are also transitioning to working with them. The leader has to establish expectations so that people can be more successful.

What advice would you give someone who is transitioning to a senior leadership role?