For everyone, the first several days of work can be exciting, terrifying, boring, and overwhelming all at once. The first several days of work when you are joining as a leader in the organization can be all of those things times twenty. Lately, I’ve been coaching a few people through this time. As with most things, helping others helped me realize some common patterns that I’ve personally experienced as well.
- Everyone’s watching: Ok. not everyone but sometimes it feels like this. People that will be reporting to you, are cautious. People that you will be partnering with, are hopeful. People that will be working on your projects, are curious. They are watching. Some of them will have realistic expectations. Others are longing to have issues resolved and want results…the faster the better.
- I try to go into accepting that eyes will be on me. It’s uncomfortable. And when I’ve tried to ignore it, my actions are swayed to do something, anything…before I should and most of the time, that backfires. Instead, I repeat to myself, I will lead but I must understand who, what and why I’m leading here. That takes time to observe and listen. I know that doesn’t sound like much but being heard is often a huge step that many people would consider a big step all in itself. Don’t undervalue this action.
- Perspective: Recognize that some of the most valuable information you receive often won’t be presented in the first several days. Sure if you are joining a company with a struggling culture, you’ll hear from several extremely unhappy people that are on the verge of quitting but remember…you are hearing one perspective on the issue. I’m not saying they are wrong, just that it will take several perspectives for you to fully understand what the root issue may be and what experiment you may want to lead to help improve the issue. Some people are comfortable sharing immediately, others take a while before you start hearing those additional perspectives that are critical for a solid assessment.
- Frequently, I schedule two introduction individual meetings. The first one is a short “who am I and what I believe about being a leader”. The second longer one is for them to ask me questions (in addition to any that they had in the first mtg) and most importantly for me to hear from them. Who are you? What do you want from a leader? What are you afraid a leader will do? What keeps you in this company? What makes you consider leaving? Plus anything else they want to share. My goal is to listen…for what they are saying and what they may not be saying. Then I consider the trends/patterns across the mtgs.
- My behavior creates perceptions: Quickly perceptions can be formed. This leader wants everyone to work 12 hour days (she is – sure, I just want to consume all of this information but that’s not the message). This leader is going to micromanage everyone (she is asking for every detail in every topic that comes up – sure, I just want to learn to help me set my base).
- In my quest to learn about the company, people, projects, etc…perceptions can quickly be formed that you will spend months correcting. Take time to breathe, acknowledge that you can learn about “x” later, highlight why you are asking for details, and consider your own sustainable pace. Logical and simple but our eagerness to do a good job and our excitement towards the opportunity – can be dangerous for us as leaders too.
- Strategize experiments/change: I wish I could say that leaders never come into the job and immediately start making massive changes. Even if the results are a guarantee to you – they are not to them causing people to be overwhelmed and afraid…especially the immediate re-org.
- I create a list of issues to tackle. Then I scrutinize the list for something very small effort but high impact. What’s that quick win, low hanging fruit that demonstrates you are listening and you will lead? Implement that and build on the momentum. Swinging for the home run the first time…risky. Maybe even ask your leadership team, which one or two should be tackled first.
- Self-Care: You are embarking on a new opportunity. For those that have read my blog for a while, know that I believe leaders focus on others first. That said, you can’t focus on others if you don’t take care of yourself. Refuse to allow the self-talk to drive you as a leader. Give yourself permission to not build Rome in a day.
What tips do you leverage on your first days as a leader?