By definition, executive onboarding involves a change in circumstance. No matter how strong the executive is, that change is risky. Executives that get help accelerate progress and reduce their risk of failure. Given that, you’d think everyone would be open to help. But, as Stanford Business School’s then dean, Robert Joss, told me in 2001, only 20% of leaders have the confidence required to be open to help. Make sure you’re one of them yourself and associate with others that have that confidence.

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 – with the help of others.

The only thing a new leader can do all by themselves is to fail. Success of any type requires others. It’s true for projects and programs, for your own onboarding and for onboarding others. Coming into a new organization you don’t know what you don’t know. You need help showing you the way.

Here’s an analogy I’ve used before. Imagine you’ve just crossed the border from Ethiopia into Kenya. You’ve cleared immigration and are getting back on the highway. What must you do first?

Change lanes. People drive on the right in Ethiopia and on the left in Kenya. If you don’t change lanes, bad things will happen pretty quickly.

Most of you didn’t know that. Just like most of you won’t know what’s different in your new organizations. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman taught us why we need to lean on our System 2 deliberate thinking to stop assess and think versus System 1 intuitive, instinctive thinking in new situations.

You need help learning what’s different so you don’t drive on the wrong side of the new culture. 20% of you will have the confidence to get that help. You’ll switch lanes. 80% of you won’t have the confidence to get that help. You’re going to have head-on collisions.

Let’s get specific about executive onboarding help. 40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months. At PrimeGenesis, we’ve reduced that rate to less than 5% for the people we’ve helped. They’ve benefited from help thinking things through and getting a head start, from help crafting and delivering their message, from help clarifying direction and building the team, and from help tracking progress and following through to deliver.

This yields the following advice.

Executive onboarding yourself. Get help. If it’s offered, take it. If it’s not offered, find it. You could get help from your new boss, from your HR department, from internal mentors, from external resources. There’s a whole range of people and tools out there to help you ranging in price from free to obscenely expensive. Shame on you if you don’t seek out help and get the best help you can afford.


Helping an executive onboarding. Offer help. 20% will have the confidence to accept it. They’re the easy ones. The harder cases are the 80% that don’t want help. Most of them will do fine. But a meaningful portion of them really do need help. Options:

  • Fire them for lack of confidence. (Probably won’t hold up in court.)
  • Force the help on them. (Probably won’t work.)
  • Narrow the scope of the formal help. (Should be an acceptable scope of help there somewhere.)
  • Get yourself help. If the resources helping you happen to help your new executive onboarding themselves, so much the better. (No one ever said the help had to be formal and dedicated.)
  • Walk away. Some people just can’t be helped. They will either succeed or fail on their own.