Monday, September 7, 2009

Leadership for the New Guy (or Girl)

I recently met with a client who was very nervous because he was moving into a management role in a brand new company. He had been a manager in his previous company, but had been promoted from within. This was going to be different and he knew it.

His goals for the session were pretty simple. He wanted to make a good impression, get off to a quick start and most importantly, not stick his foot in his mouth in his first week on the job.

This is actually a much more common concern than you might realize. In fact, there have been whole books written about what to do in your first 30 days on the job. Of course, most people don’t spend the time preparing for a new job, and they especially don’t go to the library to get a book on what to do. Instead, they just show up and wing it.

It is surprising how many managers and leaders in organizations make a whole series of mistakes in those first few weeks on the job, especially when they are young. They come in and try and make a big splash. They change things that may or may not need changing. They make decisions without understanding the consequences. And they alienate some of the very same people that they will later come to discover that they desperately need.

Sometimes these decisions haunt them for a long time. In some cases, the damage is so severe that the “long time” never happens. They end up with a short, but colorful career before heading off to a new organization. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Joining a new organization can be a tremendous experience for all involved. And when you do it right, it can set your career off on a very positive setting.

With my client's permission, I'd like to share a few of the things we discussed. I’m also interested to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you have either been that new manager or have been the employee with that brand new manager.

1. Don’t talk about your old company and how they did things. No one cares how XYZ Corp did things, and trying to draw comparisons is not going to help things.
2. Spend your first week listening. While it is always good advice to listen more than you talk, for the first week it is absolutely critical that you listen without judgment to everything being said.
3. Meet your new team. They are going to be as nervous as you are about a new boss. This is a good place to practice that listening I mentioned above. Don’t make commitments to fix whatever they say is wrong because you are likely to hear a lot of contradictory information in that first week.
4. Show that you care. When it comes to following a new leader, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The reality is that you won’t know very much in those first few weeks on the job, so this is a great time to let them know how much you care. You are more likely to be forgiven for not knowing the details if they know that you are sincere.
5. Learn the basics of what your new department does and how it fits into the big picture. You want to get this knowledge from a variety of sources. Ask your people, ask your boss, ask your customers whether they be internal or external. Once again, listen more than you talk.
6. Meet your customers. Understand what they really need from your new department. Ask them what they like about how your department performs. Ask them what they don’t like. Promise to meet with them on a regular basis and then keep that promise.

There you have it. Our quick list of things to do when you first take over a new organization. Feel free to comment about those things that you think should definitely be done, or not be done. We’d love to hear about your experiences and what you discovered the hard way.

I hope that you enjoyed this posting. If you did, please feel free to forward it to a friend, or twenty.

Until next time…..

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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