The Guide to New Leader Assimilation

How to Successfully Onboard New Executives

Here’s a troubling stat for new leaders: 40 to 50 percent of new executives fail within the first 18 months upon taking a position.

To make matters worse, executive failure typically costs an organization two times the leader’s annual salary. So, yes - it’s an expensive problem. With a failure rate this high - and an accompanying high expense per failure - it’s clear that organizations need to do more to successfully onboard their most expensive talent.

Organizations depend on their leaders, and the result of a new leader assimilation can make or break an organization.

At Emily Bermes + Associates, we’ve been helping to assimilate and grow new leaders for over 15 years. From Fortune 100 corporations to industry-shifting startups, and from VP-level positions to C-Suite leaders, we’ve provided new leader assimilation services with a success rate of virtually 100% as measured by stakeholder reports. That breadth of experience leaves us well-positioned to identify the crucial components that influence the success of new leaders.

With that in mind, this page is designed to provide a high-level outline of new leader assimilation. We’ll begin at a basic level, defining the basis of assimilation, and move through the totality of the process to relate how new leaders can best succeed in role.

Don’t set up new leaders to fail. Your organization can’t afford it. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about new leader assimilation.

Executive Coaching Services Guide: The Outline

Let’s get started.


What is New Leader Assimilation?

The words are fairly self-explanatory in nature, but worth reviewing: new leader assimilation is the process of successfully onboarding a leader into a new environment. Most commonly, the term is taken to refer to the coaching services associated with this process. As noted, this is a high-stakes endeavor.

What is Included?

Typically, new leader assimilation services focus around the “soft” skills associated with executive coaching:

  • Communication skills

  • People management skills

  • Diagnostic skills

  • Cultural influence

  • Agenda enactment

  • Leadership skills

These are considered within the context of a new leadership scenario, so factors like misaligned culture & expectations, low stakeholder trust, and navigating the logistics of a legacy team are often part of the conversation.

Traditional Approaches to New Leader Assimilation

Somewhat surprisingly, given the importance of successful assimilation toward organizational results, traditional tactics have often left new leaders poorly-equipped to succeed.

It’s not because organization’s don’t want leaders to thrive; typically, it’s because they underestimate the amount of context that’s required to lead well, or because they place pressure on executives to demonstrate results too quickly. With that in mind, here are a few traditional approaches to new leader assimilation:

  • Develop a (commonly unclear) charter. Charters can be helpful in establishing key objectives and expectations for leaders - but when they aren’t clear, they can undermine leaders’ ability to perform to expectations.

  • Provide (an inadequate level of) context. New leaders rarely understand the entirety of the situation they’re stepping into; this is the cause of many early executive missteps. While most organizations seek to provide some level of context, it’s usually offered as an afterthought in the wake of expected results.

  • Check-in on results (before achievement is possible).

Based on the frequency of failure, it’s clear that a better approach is needed.

Why New Leader Assimilation?

When it comes to Onboarding Leaders, most organizations aren’t doing enough. Here’s how we help support new-to-role executives.

Common Mistakes New Leaders Make

There a variety of mistakes that new leaders can make as they attempt to assimilate into a role, but most of them center around acting without proper context. That’s understandable, seeing as new leaders face considerable pressure to generate quick results. Unfortunately, though, the reality is that most results take time - and often the fastest way toward success is by gathering buy-in and feedback before jumping into pushing an agenda.

With that in mind, common New Leader Assimilation Mistakes Include:

  • Setting 100-day plans before entering a role and without access to context. These nearly always fail.

  • Settling for an unclear charter. Without clear expectations, it’s difficult to succeed.

  • Failing to develop collaboration from stakeholders. Enacting a new agenda without backup is nearly impossible.

  • Relying on previous tactics or success in an environment that needs a different approach.

  • Managing up instead of benefitting direct reports.

In general, new leaders should seek stakeholder feedback and collaboration before rushing into poorly-considered action.

The Biggest Mistake New Leaders Make

How New Leaders Can Recover from Early Missteps

Loss of credibility is one of the toughest career setbacks for a new leader to recover from. Leaders often equate their own credibility to the believability and relative weight that their ideas carry—but that’s only part of the equation. An executive can gain or lose credibility in a variety of ways. Here are the two most common causes:

Thought Credibility

When ideas fail to materialize or a leader’s work misses the mark, leaders may lose “thought credibility.” In response, executives can be tempted to place blame on others or minimize the failure. While the executive may avoid blame once or twice, these behaviors never rebuild credibility over the long haul and can quickly ruin an executive's professional reputation.

To recover, take full responsibility – the sooner, the better. We coach our executives to acknowledge the problem or mistake in a straightforward way. “Embrace the mistake,” we say! This philosophy of ‘radical accountability’ can feel scary and painful, but it drives the better outcome almost every time. The next step in course correction for the executive is to share their plan to learn from the mistake—including opening lines of feedback from key stakeholders—and fix/repair the problem moving forward.

Leadership Credibility

An executive may be tremendously intelligent, but if in a new role she doesn’t capitalize on others’ good ideas, fails to partner well, or fails to develop her team, it will be very difficult to build alignment around her agenda.

Loss of leadership credibility is so hard to recover from that we try to preempt it from the get-go. To do so, we help executives develop their charter, assess their team, and understand the culture they work in early on, so that they know how to drive the right leadership behaviors for the specific situation and organization they are in. 

If people do not buy into an executive's leadership style, it will be very hard to have credibility long term, as results will be painfully slow. 

How to Recover Credibility

How New Leader Assimilation Coaching Helps

While the challenges facing new leaders are considerable, new leader assimilation coaching can help organizations to minimize them. Here’s how we approach new leader assimilation at Emily Bermes + Associates:

  • Success Factor Profiling. We identify the key factors to success for incoming leaders based on thorough reviews of organizational context and individual strengths and weaknesses.

  • New Leader Assimilation Exercises. We take a hands-on instructive approach with innovative exercises to ensure new leaders can tactically carry out the principles they’ll need in the trenches.

  • Ongoing Executive Coaching. Our new leader assimilation service involves ongoing executive coaching to bombproof any officer-level appointment.

Through our work together, new or newly-promoted executives start in-role fully understanding stakeholder expectations, empowered to navigate the corporate culture, and armed with the context they need to quickly align their teams. This combination allows them to gather context, execute on expectations more quickly and make fewer costly mistakes.

The Results

Pressure-tested extensively in the Fortune 250 market, this approach is a game changer for organizations that need to drive down their executive fail rate. In our 3-year pilot program with a leading corporation in the financial services industry, we earned a promotor score of 9.7/10 and dropped their executive failure rate to zero, with 100% of executives assimilated successfully. (Yeah, they love us.)

Why Our New Leader Assimilation Training Works

See Why Our New Leader Assimilation Service has a success rate of 99% as rated by direct managers.

How to Get Started with New Leader Assimilation Coaching

Hopefully, this page has helped to provide some context to new leader assimilation. If you’re considering assimilation coaching for yourself or are seeking coaching for individuals within your organization, we’re here to help.

To get started with new leader assimilation coaching, get in touch with us. We’ll talk through your organizational and individual needs, and work to identify whether our services may be a good fit. Nothing is more engaging to us than rich conversations about tough problems that need elegant solutions.

Are you ready for a new approach?