Psychology Today: Here To Help

When New Senior Executives Take Over

There are three basic questions that must be answered at the start of a new management assignment: what do I want to achieve, what do I want to preserve, and what do I want to avoid? Let the "achieve/preserve/avoid" mantra put a framework around your actions for the next ninety days.

The answers to these questions are not intuitively obvious. And the answers are likely to change as one moves up and down the chain of command. Be aware of the dangers of relying too much on past experience in other organizations to come up with solutions for problems in this new organization. Each organization culture is different.

Getting a clear road map for these three questions is important, and is best achieved by collaborative discussion. Having such a collaborative discussion is not easy.


Echoing a similar theme, Professor John Gabarro speaks about the importance of a new manager clarifying what he calls the "going in mandate." Gabarro is a Professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business and author of The Dynamics of Taking Charge, (Boston:Harvard Business School Press, 1987).

" In general management successions, the going-in mandates were usually not very specific about what actions to take. They focused on more general parameters, such as competitive position, market share, growth, and contribution objectives."

Managers often find that, in practice, they have less authority than they had been led to believe. The Achieve, Preserve, and Avoid framework can serve as a useful way to organize that important mandate. The greater the clarity at the front end of the assignment, the less the later confusion.


Gabarro stresses the importance of building subordinates into a cohesive team. Failure to value a team approach to decision making led to a management style characterized by Gabarro as the "Lone Ranger Syndrome." And the Lone Ranger Syndrome was associated with turn-around failure:

"Compared to the successful managers, (Lone Rangers) involved others to a much lesser degree in the work of assessing and diagnosing organization problems. As a result, their diagnoses of situations tended to be much more narrowly focused and incomplete. Finally, they made changes that were perceived as inappropriate or ineffective, either because the changes were based on partial or incorrect diagnoses of problems or because the changes were badly implemented by a management group that did not support them."


Gabarro studied seventeen management successions over time. Regardless of industry, size, or country, there was a tendency for management changes to come in waves of three, with the second change being the most dramatic and the last change being a refinement of the major changes that took place in the second wave. Indeed, this three wave cycle took place even among managers in the study who (at the time) believed that their first wave of action would take care of most of the major changes.

Gabarro believes the three wave effect is a natural consequence of how new managers learn as they try to master new situations.