This week in the Wall Street Journal, Joann Lublin discussed “What to Do When That Shiny New Job Isn’t the Right Fit.” She cited examples of companies wooing stars with pledges that didn’t materialize and asked whether executives in similar situations should adapt or flee.

As I suggested to Joann during her research for this article, this type of experience happens more often nowadays because business is changing so fast. Choosing to stay without adjusting is an almost surefire way to ensure you’re among the 40% of executives who fail in their first 18 months in a new role.

As I’ve said throughout this series, executive onboarding is the key to accelerating success and reducing risk in a new job. People generally fail in new executive roles because of poor fit, poor delivery or poor adjustment to a change down the road. They accelerate success by 1) getting a head start, 2) managing the message, 3) setting direction and building the team and 4) sustaining momentum and delivering results.

This is a good framework for thinking about Joann’s question regarding adapting or fleeing. If you find yourself in a situation that is different than what you expected, many times you can’t control the change. You can control how you react. You can assess the impact of the change. You can choose your response. And you can choose to look forward, not backward.

Assess the impact of the change on your ability to deliver what matters to others, to leverage your own strengths, and to achieve your own goals.

Choose your response.

  • If the impact is low/manageable, manage it in the normal course of your new role.
  • If the impact is mission-crippling, realign everyone’s expectations and resources so they match and you can get done what you are expected to get done.
  • If the impact is insurmountable, then you should take Joann’s second option and flee.

Look forward, not backwards.

  • Make it about the mission, not about you. Find common ground/purpose. Influence others to do things that help them achieve what’s most important to them, not you.
  • Think relationships first. Learn others’ stories, personal histories, strengths, how they feel. As Joann suggested in a different column, “find the door” that will allow you to influence them.
  • Help each other and be open to help. There is a far greater chance of achieving a shared purpose together with people with whom you have good relationships.

A Case in Point: Cady Coleman

NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman had trained with NASA astronauts for decades. Then she was assigned to a mission on the international space station with Dmitri Kondratyev, an ambitious career-focused professional from Russia and Paolo Nespoli from Italy.

Cady’s coping strategies included focusing on the shared purpose, learning others stories and being a beacon of help. She made contributing to the mission’s success her guiding principal for everything she said and did. At the same time she invested in learning about and appreciating her crewmates stories, strengths and feelings. She chose to help her crewmates and be open to help so they could do their absolute best together.

A Second Case in Point: Jostein Solheim

Jostein Solheim had been the corporate guy who spent three years writing Unilever’s plan to rejuvenate its North American ice cream business across Breyers, Klondike, Popsicle, and Ben & Jerry’s – literally.

Then he was dropped in as CEO of Ben & Jerry’s to bring it into the fold. He should have been a complete cultural miss-fit. He knew that. But he made the conscious decision to go overboard in converge into the culture before trying to evolve it. He did things to celebrate Ben & Jerry’s creativity, innovation and risk-taking including setting up a graveyard of past flavors to celebrate great ideas that didn’t work.

Jostein ended up going native. Not only did he not bring Ben & Jerry’s into the fold. He refused to leave and is likely going to end his career as CEO of Ben & Jerry’s – happily.