In the research my team recently completed on what makes certain leaders get started faster than others, we asked a group of 80+ leaders from a variety of organizations what newly-appointed leaders should focus on in the first 90 days. The top vote-getter (in a landslide) was building productive relationships. Stacked up against everything else – getting results, shaping a vision, building plans – more that 80% of those surveyed said that it was very important to focus on building relationships. That’s striking.
It also squares with our own experience working with leaders in these situations. And many may put it in the DUH category – of course leaders should focus on relationships first. But here’s the nuance our experience teaches us. Many leaders focus a lot on relationships up and down – with a boss or direct reports – but surprisingly few spend nearly as much time working with those to the side. A significant number of the leaders we know who have stumbled (or flat-out failed) in new roles have done so precisely because they failed with their colleagues.
It’s a basic lesson I was taught years ago by Tony Kees, the best soccer coach I’ve ever known. When you’re running down the field, you always need to be checking who is over each shoulder. That way, when the ball comes to you, you can avoid a tackle or make a good pass quickly. That discipline – using peripheral vision – often makes a big difference between a good player and really valuable one.
So go ahead and negotiate that relationship with your boss. Get to know each of the members on your own team. But don’t forget to look around you. The higher you go in an organization, your ability to work productively with those in your peripheral vision will increasingly determine your success.