24 Jan 2019


Some of the most valuable work you can do to succeed happens before you even set foot in the organisation as its leader. Thorough research and external assessment of the job and the organisation is essential.

Words: Professor Sue Bridgewater

Whether it happens before or after your appointment, it pays to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You need to know that you are the right man or woman for the job, that you understand what will be expected of you in the role and that your plans for the organisation match those of your team.

Do you know the organisation’s current situation and how it is set up? Do you really understand what you’re entering into and the scale of the challenge ahead and are you as certain as you can be that you are the right fit? Piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of the strategy, structure and stakeholders of the organisation will be key to your success.

Thorough research before starting the job is invaluable, as it enables you to hit the ground running once you’re in place as the leader. You can speak with authority, confidence and decision right from the start, rather than appearing to be lacking in preparation and direction.

As a new leader, you will also need to manage upwards and have a sound understanding of the people who employ you and the interests of the various stakeholders. You will need to build successful relationships with those who have the power to hire and fire you and the insights that you gain through your analysis may help you to reflect on how to do that.


Rather than holding your analysis of the strategic challenges facing the organisation in your head, it’s a good idea to put it down in writing. You may then choose to keep those findings and thoughts to yourself, but it can help to work through elements of your analysis with those you trust in your support team.

There is a range of tools and frameworks, tried and tested across all fields of management and leadership, that can provide greater objectivity here, these being some of the most popular:


Looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) is a useful way to build a quick checklist of areas that need to be addressed. It encourages broader thinking on the situation of the organisation and reminds you of what is good and can be developed, and what is bad.


Here, stakeholders are plotted on a grid according to their power and their stake in the organisation (i.e. what they are interested in and how much they are interested in it). As a leader it is important to take time in doing your research. In doing so, be observant whilst having conversations with your team and get to know the individuals you work with. This helps you to get a feel for the organisation and will benefit your future strategic planning.


Once you have considered who the various stakeholders are and what interests them, map the extent to which each of them is supportive or resistant to you compared with how influential they are. A powerful and resistant stakeholder is definitely something you need to be aware of. For example, someone supportive, such as a director you already know, might be used as a bridge or ally to help influence others who you know less well.

Ultimately, the model or method you choose will be down to personal preference, but the key message is that you should always keep in mind the big picture. Use any opportunity to reflect and make use of the strategic toolkit at your disposal so that you aren’t blindsided by something that could, at a later time, put you at a disadvantage – something that may have been staring you in the face right from the start.