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4 mistakes new leaders make in the first 100 days of a job

July 17, 2017
Borderless Leadership

The first 100 days of a new manager’s job is like an extended interview.

Sure, they offered you the job, and you took it. But before the ink on paper is dry, you’re already being scrutinized, assessed, approved, or rejected  by a much larger group than the one who formally interviewed you.

Your reports, peers, partners, clients, and external observers are watching you (and we haven’t even mentioned your boss yet). You’re the new boss; everything you do — and don’t do — affects them.

Many high achievers arrive at the top job unprepared for the nuances of leadership. How you start your leadership journey is one of the most telling indicators of your long-term future with the organization.

Here are four classic first-100-days mistakes and how to side-step them.

Mistake 1: Talking a good game

It’s natural to see your appointment as the dawn of a new era. You have a grand vision for the organization or department, and you can’t wait to share it with anyone — from your direct reports to their direct reports.

From bold proclamations like “We’re going to be number one this time next year,” to vague assurances such as “Wait ’til you hear the new direction I have in mind,” you can hardly contain your enthusiasm.

You may think you’re infusing confidence with your rah-rah, but it makes those around you nervous and uncertain about their role in your brave new world.

What to do instead: 

Listen a whole lot more than you talk. Aim for a ratio of 3:1.

An empathic leader is one who hears their team out. This helps you gain knowledge of the who, what, how, and why of your organization or team. What do they need to perform better? What keeps them up late at night? What motivation do they need? What do they hope from you?

To hear what your new colleagues are saying is one thing, but to truly listen is a different skill. Good listening means being present, patient, and perceptive.

Listen to not just their words but also to the energy and emotion in their voices. While they are talking, suspend all judgment and don’t think about how you’re going to respond. You’ll be surprised how much more you will learn.

Mistake 2: Working from the ivory tower

You have a nice office, and you feel you need to be seen working hard in it — making important phone calls, typing furiously like an author on a roll, or meeting with senior executives in power discussions.

After all, as a leader, you think you have to be seen doing “leader-ly” things.

Meanwhile, your team is out there, disconnected from you and disengaged with you. It’s hard to lead anyone who doesn’t know who you are, your leadership style, or if you even take an interest in them.

What to do instead: 

Walk the ground. Work the ground. Start by reaching out to your direct reports. Offer to have lunch or coffee with them (and never in your office). The goal is to get to know them as people first — their interests, motivations, and ambitions in life and in work. Don’t worry, they will open up if you make them feel comfortable about you as a person.

Follow-up with key individuals to discuss how to work together effectively. Topics can include processes, communication channels, and expectations. Again, listen more than you talk, and make notes to address their questions or concerns.

Venture out more to get a sense of the culture of your new workplace. Have a coffee in the pantry, take your laptop to the breakout area, or join the group when they lunch in at the cafeteria. Holing up in your swanky new office doesn’t make you more of a leader. In fact, it makes you less of one.

Mistake 3: Making sweeping changes

Every new leader wants to change something. Maybe it’s a process that you find inefficient. Or it’s a predecessor’s legacy that has outlived its relevance. Even the office furniture. Nothing stamps “new leader on board” better than a swift, significant change of things (or people) around the workplace.

After all, isn’t that why they brought you in? You’re a powerful catalyst of change and you want results — fast.

Experts agree that making massive changes in your first 100 days is a mistake. It sends mixed signals — potentially creates instability, promotes fear, and even suggests recklessness. Remember this is the time to set up the stage for success under your leadership. You don’t have to hit the home run now.

What to do instead: 

Aim for small wins. Nobody expects you to perform a miracle in your first 100 days. If you can move the needle forward in terms of team performance or cohesion, you’d be on the right track.

A great way to take action is to grow the ideas from the ground. Form collaboration teams to create an inclusive environment. Invite input from everyone involved and guide the best ideas into action. Support the teams and credit them when the initiatives yield good results.

Be the leader who gives the people the changes they want.

Mistake 4: Flying solo

Like many top performers, you may have relied on your exceptional abilities and work ethic to get to the top job. You’re unstoppable. You’re full of drive and energy. You’re a one-person wrecking crew.

As a new leader, it’s easy to mistake alpha-dog for lone-wolf.

The truth is, at the most senior levels, you will need help from other leaders. The political landscape up high often demands a tight-rope act. Even the most ambitious leaders can fizzle out without the support and trust of their peers.

What to do instead:

Form win-win relationships with other leaders. Use your new role to bring value to your peers. Do it in a way that aligns to their self-interests, without compromising on yours.

Find the common ground and understand their primary motivations. Share your vision in a way that excites them. Be transparent about your goals and seek their support. Take the time to build trust. It’s not always easy, but it pays big dividends.

Your first 100 days as a manager will say a lot about you. Whether they announce your arrival as a bona fide leader, or whisper warnings of your flame-out, may well depend on how you manage these classic pitfalls.

By Victor Ng

Source: Business Insider

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