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12 Questions Every New Leader Should Ask

Congratulations! You made it! You’re the new leader. Now what?

I know you’re supposed to always look like you know what you’re doing but — truth be told — new leaders often don’t even know where to start. They drift around for a month or so, smiling a lot, ordering new stationery, while they act as if they’ve got it covered.

I came across this all-too-familiar scenario recently while coaching a young executive at a nonprofit. He had been moved unexpectedly to a new division after achieving some success in another department. The move caught him by surprise, but he threw himself into it with all the energy he could find.

When we first met, I asked the young executive what questions he had. He sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and admitted, “I’m not even sure what questions I should be asking.”

I suspect he’s not alone. As I thought back over times when I’ve tackled a new leadership position, I remembered the same uncertainty. I also recalled 12 questions I asked or — knowing what I know now — wish I had asked.

It’s an impartial list, of course, but these 12 questions should help any new leader prepare to thrive in a new position.

1. Who are the key influencers on your new team?

It shouldn’t take long to figure out who everyone already respects and follows. They can make or break you.

By applying the 80/20 principle, plan to invest a disproportionate amount of time with these key influencers to gain their buy-in before getting too far into your new digs. If you don’t, you might not stay long.

2. What exactly is expected of you?

The last few times I’ve started a new position, I took the time to unpack the job description in great detail. I ended up with an outline of my duties that filled eight to 10 pages, typed, single spaced.

I only reviewed my outline annually after that, but the process of breaking it all down can help you be sure you’re not missing anything that might surprise you later.

3. What exactly are you expected to do?

This question from John Maxwell is one you need to ask of your supervisor. I’m amazed at how often it isn’t asked, only assumed — until later when performance evaluations are due. Too late.

Better to ask specifically up front to help you know what you are personally expected to do and what you can delegate to others.