I wonder how new Labour leader Ed Miliband is feeling. He will have had the tour, been given all the pay and rations, health and safety information, acquired the manual and keys to his kingdom. Is he starting to wonder whether becoming leader is right for him? One thing is certain, he will need to hit the ground running. 

We ask much of our leaders, be they political or any other kind. How much does an effective induction play a part in their success?

I am currently coaching an ex-chief executive. He remembers his first day: “I was shown my office, introduced to my PA, given a parking pass and then taken to the board room where the current directors were all lined up to greet me. It felt like something out of Gosford Park. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but it did tell me something about the organisation.”

Induction purports to be a two-way process, yet it often becomes a one-way ritual, with organisational needs outweighing those of the individual. Thoughtful induction helps new leaders to understand their roles, relate strategy to them, map out sub-cultures and political terrain and develop relationships with key stakeholders.

Starting a new leadership role in a new organisation can be tough, but at least the “I’m new around here, tell me about…” card is available. Pity the new appointee who has achieved internal promotion. The expectation, usually tacit, is that they “should know”.

So what does effective induction look like? From the organisational perspective, induction is about facts and feelings, provide an experience that helps to affirm that your newcomer has made the right career choice. Involve the incomer in creating a tailor-made induction plan as well as your HR and management teams and key stakeholders. Keep in touch and make sure it is moving forward. Keep the plan simple enough to implement well, yet detailed enough to cover what you agreed.

Make sure induction conveys five clear messages and provides a road map for achieving them:

  • We’re a great place to work
  • We’re fortunate to have you
  • We want you to know who we are and how we work
  • We want to know who you are and how you work
  • We want to help you succeed.

For the new leader:

  • Think, in advance, about what you need from your induction. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It is a cliché, but a pertinent one. Visualise how you want your first weeks in post to unfold and how you can manage this.
  • Find yourself a mentor, coach or better still, both. They can provide valuable insights, help you think through options and create a safe place for you to think aloud.
  • Listen at least twice as much as you talk. Your induction is a time for asking questions, gathering and processing information.

Creating and growing leaders is costly. Robust induction helps new leaders to get up to speed faster and stay longer. The cost of losing such talent makes the cost of induction look like small change.