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Leadership Lessons: Sadiq Khan Should Focus on City Hall's People and Culture First

24/05/2016 15:08 | Updated 24 May 2016

Transitioning into a new role can be one of the most stressful career milestones for individuals at every level. Taking on the Mayor of London role, Sadiq Khan - a former human rights lawyer turned Labour MP for Tooting in south London - will face a challenge similar to leaders in the corporate world: how to balance learning about the firm whilst simultaneously shaping it. To do this effectively, Mr. Kahn, like his peers in the C-Suite, must prioritise activities that will help him assimilate into the culture and build out his network of people and support.

In the corporate world, 46 percent of leaders underperform when they move into a new role. All too often new-to-role leaders jump straight into the job wanting to demonstrate their value and impact quickly. They make decisions and changes without properly assessing the situation or building the support network to ensure success. This can have a very real and negative impact on an organisation; destabilising financial performance, shaking stakeholder confidence, and stalling productivity.

Good leadership transitions on the other hand, can reinvigorate and renew an organisation's mission, culture, values, and productivity.

In business and in politics, those leaders that focus on understanding their people and organisational culture are better equipped to translate this insight into rapid performance gains for their teams and their organisation across the first two years. But their actions in the first 100 days in seat - the "make or break" period that determines a new leader's future in the role - are critical for building energy and momentum for successful transformation.

As the first Labour mayor in eight years, Mr Khan will likely want to make some fundamental changes at City Hall. In business, most new executives stumble into a culture-clash when they do this by assuming their title is enough to gain influence, or attempting to circumvent decision-making processes in a bid to get things done. Instead, the best approach is to engage in conversations with (and ask questions of) the right colleagues, to gain a better understanding of the operations, workflows, and teams, and then determine whether to work within existing parameters, counteract or overturn them.

Mr. Khan will also need to establish a support network and win over sceptical stakeholders within the organisation. Casting aside any election-related hostilities, he should find those that have vital institutional knowledge: a manager who knows what it takes to implement a new policing policy, say, or an HR partner that has experience reorganising City Hall operations. Building a support network like this will give him access to diverse perspectives that challenge his own and the status quo to optimise outcomes.

In today's complex environment, new leaders will not have all the answers; their success depends on their ability to identify and use the expertise of others. From the outset, Mr. Kahn should be careful not to dismiss the ideas of others, micromanage, or respond negatively to criticism in a bid to secure his own "quick wins." He should work to bring experts together to boost collaboration and deliver "collective wins" quickly. This will inspire credibility and confidence in team members and show that he is up to the task of shaping the future.

Leadership transitions in both corporate and political context often take longer than expected. As such, new leaders must be as deliberate in their plans to connect with their teams and peers as they are about understanding the organisational structure, dynamics and processes. Prioritising these efforts in the first 100 days of office will help solidify a successful start.

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