Numerous times throughout my more than 35 years leadership career I’ve been the new guy.
Navigating those early days in a new leadership role is critically important. Much of our future success as leaders is determined by how well we start. It is more difficult to regain momentum for our leadership if it is lost or never begins early.
(Part of my consulting practice is helping new leaders launch well. If I can help you, please let me know.)
Here are 7 classic new leader mistakes:
Assuming people trust you before they really do. New leaders often gain a window of approval. Everyone appears nice to the new person. People will appear excited to have a new leader on board. Either way, people in the early days can often make a new leader feel very loved and very popular.
Trust is not the same thing as popularity. It must be earned over time and experience.
(By the way, honeymoon periods, in my observation, aren’t lasting as long as they used to last.)
Bashing the past while attempting to get to the future. When you speak badly of the past you alienate people who were there before you arrived. The past is a part of the people you’re trying to lead and it forces people to feel they need to defend themselves.
You can’t ignore the past, and you may need to either repent from it or build from it, but you must approach it carefully.
Assuming nothing good was done before you got there. In reality there were probably lots of good things done in the past. It’s arrogant to think otherwise. You’ll be more effective if you help people rediscover some things which were done well than to ignore any good that ever happened before.
Having the “they need me” complex. When the new leader arrives pretending to have all the answers it keeps any other good ideas from being shared. People either aren’t motivated to help or they don’t feel they have permission.
Ignoring unwritten rules. Every organization has rules, which never make it to a piece of paper. They are in the core DNA and are often more powerful than the written ones. These unwritten rules involve things such as how things are done, how people interact with one another, and reaction to change.
They can be changed over time, but not as easily if they aren’t understood – and even followed – in the process of changing them.
Not understanding the real power structure. Before you can ever effectively implement change you have to learn the people who hold positions of power. It’s not always the people with titles. There are people of influence that – when they speak – people listen.
Not testing the waters before making major change. Seasoned leaders know there must be “meetings before the meeting”. You must find the pulse for change before you spend any capital for change you have. Don’t assume everyone is on board just because it’s a great idea (in your mind) and people like you.
I believe humility addresses most of these well. If a new leader approaches the organization in a humble effort to learn the people and the organization, listening to people and asking good questions – before attempting major change, he or she is more likely to be successful as the leader.