Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Seven First Year Mistakes Senior Executives Make


One of the comments I hear most often from rising, high potential leaders in our Next Level Leadership® group coaching program is “I’m so glad to know it’s not just me.” Being in the leadership crucible can be a lonely experience. The group coaching participants quickly learn and take comfort from the fact that they are not alone in the leadership challenges they face every day.

I thought about that when I received an email last week from a reader of this blog who was promoted about a year ago to the Senior Executive Service (SES) of the U.S. federal government. We had the opportunity to meet at a conference earlier this month and he told me had some leadership lessons learned from the past year that he wanted to share with me in writing.

When I read his email, I immediately wanted to share it with the leaders who read this blog if for no other reason than to let you know that you’re not alone. With my SES friend’s permission (while honoring his request to remain anonymous), I’m sharing seven mistakes he thinks he made in his first year as a senior executive.

In his own words, here they are:

Going it alone. A good friend remarked to me that she was surprised how often she heard that SES jobs are lonely jobs. After this first year, I’m not surprised. With no established mentoring program or real guidance on who I could depend on, I often toiled away in my siloed organization. Also, I admit to often being too proud to ask for help. The result was I felt completely lonely and exhausted trying to figure my way out of a myriad of issues.

Not figuring out the real trust trigger for my team. In my previous management role, I hated not being part of the decision-making team. So my early goal was to foster a collegial and collaborative team. Creating transparency in decisions would lead to trust. We have achieved the collaborative team for the most part. However, I have found out through trial and error that my team most valued information sharing. Through the course of four to six meetings a day, I found it impossible to convey everything and, on that count, any time information did not make it back to managers, trust suffered.

Misreading the room. My initial conversations with my management team revealed frustration with the previous manager who they perceived as a micro-manager. Problem solved. Never my style. Three months after beginning, the management team complained that my hands off style conveyed a sense that I wasn’t engaged in their work.

Lack of accessibility. I went from having three to four meetings a week to having the same number of meetings in a day. Then, there’s the 200 daily emails and don’t forget the need to get through the 200-page document that’s been on my screen for a week. The result is that there is little time to effectively check in with managers thereby compounding the disengagement perception.

Not being clear that changes will take time. Former Campbell Soup Chairman Doug Conant recently said that it took him three years to get his vision implemented. Many disaffected folks in my organization wanted me to make changes immediately. Some places need a shock to the system but my organization frankly didn’t. However, keeping morale and hope up during this time while I’m continuing to evaluate the organization and make incremental changes is a significant challenge.

Not dealing with “that person”. There is always “that person” who thinks that they should have gotten the job. I used an accommodation strategy that did not establish clear roles and did not send a signal that I was in charge. The lack of clear roles created more tension not only in my relationship with “that person” but also conveyed lack of clear roles among other managers.

Failing to prepare and engage your family. Coming from a field office, Washington, DC is different in every way. (6:30 p.m. conference calls anyone?) That was not only the case for me but also for my family. Dragging my family here for my job made me feel like I couldn’t complain about the stress of the new job at home. It took me a long time to fight that and be honest with those I love. I was showing it anyway so I might as well have been open about it.

Not all has been bad. We have had some amazing successes and have churned out a ton of work in the past year. Also, from several levels, I have heard that I’m growing into the job. Most importantly, I’m self aware enough to acknowledge and recognize areas of growth and in the vein perhaps I’ll pass along my second year mistakes.

Which of these leadership lessons learned resonates most with you? What other mistakes have you made as a leader that you can share for the benefit of others who are new to their roles? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.