How to Prep for Your First Day as an Executive


There’s no shame in being nervous for your first day as an executive.

In fact, most new executives have some level of fear as they enter into a new role. That’s natural, and even justified, because there’s a lot riding on an executive position and an unfortunately-high percentage of new executives fail.

But properly preparing can greatly improve your odds of succeeding in-role and can help you to feel less nervous in the process. We’ve seen it firsthand; as executive coaches, we’ve worked with new executives assimilating to roles at Fortune 100 companies and industry-shifting startups, so we’ve been around the block.

From that executive leadership coaching experience, here are three of the most important mental approaches you can take to prepare for your first day, along with five drop-dead-practical pointers. All of it is presented with the intent to make your transition as smooth as possible – and your first day on the new job a success.

1. Go in ready to listen.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prep for your first day as an executive is to assume a mindset of assessment rather than immediate action.

In other words, seek out information and listen to your people.

One of the biggest mistakes a new executive can make is to rush into a new role with guns blazing, ready to push an agenda and make changes before getting the lay of the land. Do that, and you’ll be shooting blind – and you’ll probably be off target.

As a new executive, you have a very limited understanding of context. Even if you’re being internally transitioned into the role, you’re entering a new context in the organization. Nobody – to repeat, nobody – can make good decisions without understanding context.

Instead, get input. Ideally, get it from anybody who needs to be on board to successfully enact your agenda. That might be 15 people; it might be 400. The key is to be willing to listen.

If you aren’t listening, you’ll be trying to shout down a crowd. And you’ll probably be wrong, too.

2. Communicate more, not less. 

A second important preparation to make: be ready to communicate more, not less.

As executive leadership coaches, we’ve seen it before: there’s a too-common misconception that keeping people guessing builds respect. The rationale is that by letting roles, responsibilities, expectations, and even your own preferences remain mysteries, you’re actually building up authority.

That is totally false. 

Your team members will want to know what you expect of them. In fact, making you happy is critical to their individual success, so the more you communicate with them on how to do that, the more appreciative they’ll be.

Even if you’re naturally a more reserved leader, it’s important that as you head into a new executive leadership role you strive for clarity and transparency. Doing so will help you to build trust, understand context, communicate your own, and ultimately gather the consensus that’s necessary to achieve real results.

So, err on the side of over-communication.

3. Find supporting professional relationships.

Finally, a third preparation: find supporting professional relationships to build you up in your new role.

As we’ve written before, it can be lonely at the top. Professional relationships change when you move to an executive role – more people are below you, and those dynamics can make finding peers hard.

Be proactive. First, seek to establish a few strong relationships on the board, if appropriate – people that you can be open with and who you trust, and who may even be willing to mentor you.

And we also recommend seeking out groups of peers who sit in seats like your own. Those relationships can buffer you through the difficulties that will inevitably come in your new role.

With these three components as your foundation for the first day, you’ll be better prepared.

Drop Dead Practical Tips

Those three components are crucial – but to make your chances of first day success even better, here are five pieces of dead-practical advice to get you off on the best foot.

1. Get good sleep.
This is about as common-sense and practical as it gets, but it’s still hard to do if you’re not intentional. The research is there – good sleep helps you to be more effective. Get good sleep before your first day.

2. Don’t complain.
Complaining is contagious, and if you’re confronted with complaints quickly in your new role, it’s tempting to affirm or even reciprocate. Don’t. Complaining crushes your credibility.

3. Be positive.
Essentially, this is the flip-side of complaining: bring a positive attitude to your first day. It’s cliché for a reason – it works. Positivity will help you to gain trust and make others more excited to follow you.

4. Don’t answer hypothetical questions.
Hypothetical questions are lose-lose situations. It’s always wise to avoid hypotheticals, but it’s even more important early on, when it’s impossible for you to have a context to answer from. If you answer incorrectly, you’ll lose credibility.

5. Understand the story as much as you can.
You won’t be able to understand the full context. But prepare as much as you can to understand the story of the company and your role in it going in, so that you can communicate that to your team (i.e. “I’m going to seek input from you as we work to get things back on track).

Executive Leadership Coaching Can Help

Hopefully, these preparation tactics will leave you primed for success. But to maximize your chances, executive leadership coaching can help.

We’ve worked with executives at levels up, down, and across organizations to ensure success in new leadership roles – and every one of our engagements has resulted in a successful assimilation.

Executive leadership coaching can empower new executives with the confidence and skills they need to succeed in-role. It can empower you.

Are you ready for a new approach to new leader assimilation? Let’s talk.

We’ll discuss your needs and put together a plan to help you grow – from a failure risk into the superstar leader your organization needs.

Emily Bermes