The old adage of 90 days was seen as a standard for allowing leaders to find their feet before hitting the ground running. Pre-pandemic, the new leader connecting to a role and company came with an abundance of support. It was too expensive to have them fail and go through the hiring process again. Now, it’s more like 90 seconds. 

The “great resignation” also curated a key change during the pandemic – the pace of time to productivity increased in many sectors, especially financial. Time to competency was not even a factor and it was just assumed that leaders could fall into place and know instinctively where to go. Now, many, prior to their first day, meet with their teams and start work before they even walk through the doors. Organizational patience no longer allows a long runway before takeoff. In addition, research reveals it only takes one tenth of a second to form an impression of a new person. There’s no time to linger on how to put your best foot forward.

If the new normal is to have leaders “hit the floor running” before they have figured out where the bathroom is, or even how to use company resources, what are the consequences? Particularly, how might a “quiet leader” or alternatively, a leader brought in as a change agent be at high risk? What effect does this have on them? Their team? The company?  

As a motley group – a psychologist, a talent leader, and a sociologist – we were curious to look at the effects and offer practical and simple solutions to help leaders find their feet in the new normal of rapid onboarding. 

Psychological effects

Understanding and controlling the amount of change leaders experience in the first few weeks is an essential first step to prevent emotional upheaval and cognitive overload.

  • It can be tempting to fill the leaders’ first few days with lots of appointments and informational sessions to “bring them up to speed”. Ironically, too much change in too short a period of time actually slows down the rate at which information can be absorbed and processed.
  • A leader’s identity is often tied to their role in the organization. The externals –the organization and team– change when the leader begins a new role, but the internal, psychological adjustment happens more slowly and raggedly. Until the leader realigns their identity with the new organization, the intermediate period can evoke feelings of uncertainty – for everyone.
  • Change and stress are intimately intertwined. The neurological response to stress causes the release of cortisol. This hormone puts us in flight, fright or fight mode, and muzzles the prefrontal cortex necessary for rational thought and decision making. The result is that leaders are often reacting rather than responding thoughtfully to events in the first few weeks.

Team effects

The leader/team-member relationship needs space to develop. They need to adapt to each other’s styles and come to understand each other’s intent, all while answering these key questions: Is this person credible? Do they have my best interest at heart? Can they garner the influence to help me do my job well and further my career? Am I genuinely looking forward to interacting with this person? 

  • If a leader launches into crisis management, rushing past intentional trust-building with their team, team members will look toward other trusted sources in the organization for guidance from someone else who ‘follows our norms’. This can deteriorate team dynamics and muddy prioritization.
  • Team members may sit idle if they observe a leader’s initial missteps and lack of support. If they lose confidence in a leader’s imminent success, they may choose to self-preserve and exert minimal effort. 
  • Leaders cannot be expected to form instant bonds with their team. Trust is earned with small installments – not grand gestures – which build slowly. Much like pennies in a proverbial jar, it accumulates slowly and cannot be rushed. 

Organizational Effects

As a Leader, the short-sightedness of initiating change immediately without the proper time to integrate and understand a problem or organizational systems and processes can introduce excess strain. The struggle to meet new urgent requests will inject dissonance into organizational structures leading to a lack of productivity.

  • Organizational change that comes faster or with more quantity than can be absorbed results in a feeling of unrestrained pace causing rework or misalignment with outcomes. Teams become frustrated and fractured due to already overworked systems as the new leader tries for “early wins”.
  • Decreases in productivity may occur as the organization tries to keep up with process changes or wrong turns that frustrate the current structure, before purposeful plans can take hold. The result could lead to organizational exhaustion, apathy or resignation from stretching to meet new leader demands.
  • Ultimately, organizational success measures may be impacted such as a decreased employee satisfaction, decreased employee Net Promotor Scores, and increased turnover. Individuals feel the processes, systems, and structures become too unwieldy to manage or deal with on a daily basis which have longer term implications on outcomes and brand. 


So how do leaders successfully navigate the quagmire of a new role and organization? We offer nine, simple suggestions to facilitate a successful transition.

Leaders give themselves space

  1. Gather data fast and ask more questions than you give answers. When people feel listened to, the hormone oxytocin is released, which helps to establish trust. 
  2. Do not shortcut meetings with the team. Ask people how they feel, not just what they think during this time. Building emotional equity is as important as intellectual know-how.
  3. Keep white space on your calendar to review and absorb information – being present allows you to regulate your emotions, be mentally fit and lessen the chance of burnout.

Leaders invest in their team

  1. Prioritize one on ones with your directs and hold “open office hours” to understand thewhole organization. This provides unfiltered information and makes people feel validated that their insights and concerns are appreciated.
  2. Build a stakeholder map and prioritize meeting with everyone on it. It doesn’t have to be long, 20 minutes, to understand their point of view. Find out who in the organization is a role model: find them, and observe them.
  3. Approach your new-leader integration like a prototype: gather information, test your observations, gather more feedback and iterate until you get it right. Get comfortable with showing something just-good-enough to learn as much as you possibly can.

Leaders learn the organization

  1. Go beyond the org chart to understand the processes and why they exist. Who or what do they benefit? What does the process optimize and why? Find different ways to ask ‘why’, such as replacing it with ‘how’. Asking ‘why’ too many times may elicit a defensive response. 
  2. Review the structures and environment the team has lived in – ask them how, knowing what they know today, they would make better choices.
  3. Pace and be clear about any asks, avoiding unscheduled demands when possible until systems and processes catch up to changes.

You may need to move fast and gain competency quickly. In doing so, recognize there will be tradeoffs. Allow room for error and accept that outcomes may be beyond your control, but you can use these steps to better control the process. Ensure you utilize your first moments at the organization wisely to secure lasting wins for you, the team and your new organization. It’s not the outcomes that will build confidence, but the inputs along the way.

About the Authors

Marisa Paterson is a chartered psychologist and executive coach, based in Boston. She works with leaders and teams leveraging psychology and neuroscience, to help clients solve complex leadership challenges. Contact Marisa at

Mary Havern is an HR and leadership consultant and certified coach spanning across Fortune 100’s to biotech startups. She works with executives and HR teams solving for their highest impact next-gen talent strategies. Mary holds an MBA from Boston College and lives with her husband, son and daughter in Boston, MA. Contact Mary at 

Jennifer Tice is an experienced executive level leader in the area of Talent Development and Learning with experience building and reimagining organizations, especially those in transition. She holds a doctorate in Sociology specializing in organizational structures and leadership. Contact Jennifer at her Linkedin profile