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power points

Before you run, you need to walk. And before you rush to tell people what to do as you start up your first leadership role, you need to realize what the real issue is: What do they want to hear? What do they need from you? Maybe, nothing.

“Most new managers preoccupy at start-up on inserting themselves into the work of their team members,” consultant Art Petty writes on the Smart Brief Blog.

“It’s an awkward, clumsy stage that often crosses the border into everyone’s least favourite place, micromanaging. Instead, new managers need first to identify what the group and individuals need from them in this role. In many instances, the answer is ‘nothing,’ which is acceptable at start-up.”

He likes the question a young project manager asked the first team she led: “At the end of our time working together, when we’re successful, what will you say I did?” It got a sarcastic response from one team member: “Don’t be a jerk like your predecessors.” When she wrote that on the board – “Don’t be a jerk” – it signalled she was seriously open and encouraged other suggestions. The team members described what they needed from someone in a leadership role to help them with what was a floundering project.

He also urges you to accelerate what he calls “the time to trust.” Trust is, of course, essential to success, for a team and a leader. But he points out that a new leader is at a disadvantage because our wiring as humans demands time and experience together before trust emerges. In fact, wariness that could easily slip into distrust is likely forming as team members worry about the impact of the new boss on them. “The situation is often exacerbated by a new manager’s tendency to project a tone of, ‘you’re broken and I’m here to fix you.’ This approach triggers everyone’s defence mechanisms, and early efforts at communicating and collaborating are stifled or derailed,” he notes.

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Beware of the passion principle

Instead, seek what he calls “swift trust” by communicating and projecting your belief in the capabilities of the team members. That may seem risky – you undoubtedly are wary of the new situation as well – but it can open the door to transparent communication and strengthened co-operation between all parties. If you can accelerate time to trust you can accelerate time to performance.

It helps to define whether the team is primarily composed of individual contributors or whether it is highly collaborative. “For example, a wrestling team and a football team have a very different kind of team dynamics,” says Steve King, an adjunct professor of executive education at Kellogg School of Management. “They’re both teams; they just need to be managed differently.” In particular, you need to decide how to frame goals for the situation.

Consultant Wally Bock urges you to be patient in the new role. “Many new leaders fall into the trap of believing there’s not much to learn when they get on the job. The truth is that it takes most leaders who make a successful transition from being an individual contributor more than a year to get the basics of leadership work right,” he warns.

If you aspire to excellence, he adds, you can count on another decade of development. “Leadership work is not easy. Leadership work is not simple. Leadership work is hard to master. You must learn leadership work by doing. That means mistakes and discomfort.”

But, he adds, if you love the work leadership roles can be a marvellous way to spend your career. Just don’t rush at the start. Think of what people need for you and the importance of building trust.

Quick hits

  • The New Year isn’t a finish line, productivity author Laura Vanderkam notes in her newsletter. Or a starting line. Whatever you think you will resolve to do differently in the New Year is something you could do right now – today.
  • Don’t deflect compliments. Yes, it seems humble and polite but University of Texas psychology professor Art Markman points out that a compliment should make you and the complimenter feel good; don’t prevent that from happening, even forcing the complimenter to work harder to achieve their intent.
  • Advertising consultant Roy H. Williams reveals he never works with a person unless he enjoys talking with them, since the relationship with the individual is what inspires his best work. As well, this new friend must have unconditional authority to say yes to ideas and proposed ad copy without having to check with someone else. “Anything with two heads is a monster,” he notes.
  • To limit distractions, productivity author Nir Eyal suggests a precommitment pact, similar to Odysseus having himself tied to the mast of the ship to avoid the bewitching song of the Sirens. Prevent future impulsive actions through the Freedom app, which blocks access to distracting websites, or the Forest mobile app, which ensures your prescribed amount of phone-free time.
  • To quickly format some letters or words in a Microsoft Word document, software expert Allen Wyatt advises selecting that target, right clicking, and picking from the options on the font dialogue box.

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