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3 ways not to fail in a new job

September 15, 2014, 5:19 PM UTC

At least 50% executives fail within the first 18 months of taking a new job, research shows.

How do you avoid the failure trap?

This is the question that Ron Carucci and Eric Hansen, partners in a consultancy called Navalent, sought to answer by interviewing 2,600 executives—most of them at Fortune 1000 companies—over a 10-year span.

The consultants discovered plenty of handicaps to success: 67% of executives struggle to let go of work they did in their previous job. There’s also that debilitating time suck: 61% said that people want more of their time than they have available. And the imposter factor: 60% of executives said that others ascribe more power to them than they believe they have.

Here are three tips from Carucci and Hansen, whose new book based on the study, Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives, is out this month:

1. Diagnose, don’t indict.
Executives new to an organization often turn over rocks to discover what they’ve gotten themselves into—and fail to manage their shock. Saying “How have you people survived this long?” is the worst reaction. “Actively solicit feedback about how you and your actions are being perceived,” Carucci advises. “And find ways to honor the heritage of long-standing employees.”

2. Decide, don’t defer.
“Leaders begin their role in the relational red,” says Carucci, noting that leaders in general are less trusted today than in the past before social media empowered everybody. Making employees feel valuable and part of decision-making is crucial, but here’s the hitch: Decisiveness is more critical than ever. Make tough choices for the good of the organization without getting handicapped by inordinate worry about how employees feel.

3. Embrace power, don’t abdicate.
Newly promoted executives, especially CEOs, are ever more fearful about being viewed as indulgent—since brash displays of power and privilege are so not cool today. “Don’t abdicate the good you can do with your new power,” says Hansen. “Learn to harness it.”

The interviews with the 2,600 executives revealed only slight differences between male and female leaders. Women bosses felt less isolated than men did, perhaps because women build support networks early on in their transitions. But female leaders also seemed to enjoy being executives less than the men did, Hansen and Carucci found..

This is not a surprise to Fortune. The Most Powerful Women in Business (Fortune’s 2014 rankings will be revealed this Thursday) tend to view power more horizontally than male leaders do. To women at the top, power is typically not so much about climbing the ladder; power is more about wielding influence across a spectrum that’s much bigger than the next job.