Impactful leaders are usually excellent listeners, able to organize lots of information, and communicate effectively. To master those three skills over time, there are a few things new leaders need to know and understand at the outset.
First, a new leader will usually inherit a team and that team’s current results. In these cases, assumptions are your biggest enemy. Do not assume that because the area you are leading is achieving its desired results now, the success will last forever. Do not assume that the team was achieving results because it was being led well. In fact, assume as little as possible. Learn as much as you can.
The first few months for any new leader is about developing relationships and educating themselves on the department. The first few months will be focused on getting to know your team, supervisor, peers, and customers. By approaching conversations with those groups with authenticity and curiosity, letting them also get to know you in the process, you will be off to a great start. Engage with everyone you can during those first few months. Have lots of coffee and lunch dates. Meet with groups and meet with individuals. Ask lots of questions. Listen twice as much as you talk.
In some cases, a new leader will be starting a new department from scratch. The rules here are a little different. Learning as much as possible about the goals and expected deliverables will serve a new leader well in this context. Action planning based on those goals and resources will be an important next step.
Define the Work
Second, define the work. Answer the following questions. If you do not know the answer, start by asking supervisors, colleagues, your team, and your customers for their perspectives. Remember, these are their perspectives, not facts:
- What results am I responsible for?
- How are those results measured and in what timeframe?
- Who are my customers? What would I like my customers to say about their experiences with my team? How is the team currently meeting customer expectations?
- What is the value of my area of responsibility to the business? If my area of responsibility did not exist, what would it mean for the business?
Change Your Mindset
Third, a new leader must change their mentality from being that of a guest to that of a host. Simply coming to work, doing your job, and going home will not be enough in most leadership roles. To clarify, I am not suggesting that you will be working longer hours or will never have any time for vacation, but you are taking on a much more demanding set of responsibilities.
Instead, when anything happens impacting your new area of leadership, it is your responsibility to identify problems and come up with solutions. When something is going well in your department, you can explain why it is going well because it was intentional on your part. When something is not going well, you own both the problem and the solution to improving it in a lasting manner.
While you are still expected to operate in your scope, your direct supervisor is likely leading multiple areas of responsibility. The good supervisors will count on you to know what you are empowered to do with your team and what requires your supervisor’s permission. In instances where your supervisor has ultimate decision-making authority, most will appreciate giving them multiple options and thinking ahead about the possible consequences, both positive and negative, for each option.
In leadership, especially in a first role as a leader, it is important that new leaders get to know their area of responsibility top to bottom, which means understanding how each part works separately and together. As a leader learns the different parts of the business, they should also focus on the following areas where results may be expected of them and their teams.
Strategies for new leaders to succeed include avoiding assumptions, developing relationships, defining goals and responsibilities, and taking ownership of both problems and solutions. Effective communication, learning, and a mindset shift from being a guest to a host will help new leaders have a greater positive impact in their new role.
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