By Karen Cates, Adjunct Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
If stepping into a new leadership role has you feeling a little nervous, multiply that feeling by ten to estimate the apprehension rippling through your new team. While you may be wondering whether you are up for the challenge, the people anticipating your arrival are wondering, “What’s going to happen to me?”
As you manage first impressions, existential anxiety can be paralyzing to the workforce. So to look like you know what you are doing and to maintain morale and performance as you settle into the big chair, here are three things you should consider doing right away when you get to your new office.
- Have a plan: This sounds mundane, but many leaders assume they will assess what is going on in the new office when they get there and then figure out what they need to do after completing their due diligence.
- Share the plan:
- Follow the plan:
This is half right—the second half. Before starting an assessment, leaders must create a tangible plan to collect and analyze the information they seek. What do you need to know? How will you uncover this information? To whom will you speak? What do you plan to talk about? How long do you anticipate this will take? Having a plan provides a framework for making decisions as you navigate those first days and weeks.
You need to communicate the plan to your new team as soon as possible. Remember, you are not sharing proposed changes or other content. It’s too early for that. But you do want to reveal the process you will follow to collect information. Will you be talking to everyone in the office or just the key players? Can people come to you to share information? What is the best way for them to get on your calendar?
In short, you need to establish the rules of engagement out of the gate so people understand how the flow of communication is going to work and how much time you are going to spend seeking input. By managing their expectations, you manage their fear.
Talk to the people, ask the questions, and take the time you planned to take. For some of your people, this will be the first actions they will see associated with your leadership. They will be judging you while you assess them.
Don’t deviate if it will call the process or your intentions into question. Why are you talking to Jane before you talk to her supervisor? Be sure to walk your talk, and build positive attributions for your actions. Honor the hierarchy. Be easy on the people and tough on the problems.
Too often, leaders approach a new role as something they will figure out for themselves. But sitting in your office making notes to yourself won’t net you the same early leadership capital as having a plan, sharing the plan, and following your plan.
The specifics of the plan are less important than following these three steps, assuming you are sincerely seeking information to understand and diagnose the people and the work.
By proactively managing your entrée into a new leadership position, you begin building trust.
You also provide your new team with a road map for what might otherwise be a bumpy ride. And you channel the anxiety of transition into productive dialogue that sets the tone for the future.
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Karen Cates is an adjunct professor of the Energizing People for Performance program.
You can work with Karen Cates and her colleagues in the Kellogg programs to improve your executive skills throughout the year.
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