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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Of course I'd love to fly into space with Sir Richard Branson, but that's not why I took on the role of managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada this past August. The real reason was that I was pumped to work on such an edgy and exciting brand. Just below the excitement, though, I felt a little current of something (maybe uncertainty?) about stepping in as a leader and motivating a team.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to have these types of anxieties, so hopefully exploring my experience at Virgin Mobile will be a good way to break my column virginity – excuse the pun. From my own experience, here are five tips to help managers thrive in new leadership positions.

1. Shut it and listen

Coming into a new leadership role, you probably understand your industry and have some knowledge of the company. But you have an outsider's view of your new organization and you're not yet an expert on the ins and outs. Expertise comes with time and from listening and talking to your new colleagues.

Meet with employees at all levels to talk about what they do, how they do it and their ideas for the future. This helps you understand not only how the company has been run, but allows you to gain valuable insights into their perception of the organization and their suggestions for the future.

2. Ask and ye shall achieve

Some people say, "There's no such thing as a dumb question." Not totally true in my experience, but there's something to it. When you start working at a new company or in a new role, you can't be afraid to ask questions. But don't blindly accept the answers you're given. Sometimes practices were put into place for some long-lost reason that's no longer relevant. Challenge the answers you're given, not to prove someone wrong, but to improve how things work.

And to that note, encourage employees to analyze the work they're doing and the reasons they're doing it. This is a good way to improve how the work gets done, and creates a moment for your employees to show greatness, which is just as important.

3. Talk to actual humans

With new technology breaking down boardrooms, we're seeing the death of the round-table discussion. While these technologies definitely have their merits – I work almost solely off my mobile – when you are starting at a new company, it is important to meet people face to face. At Virgin Mobile, we have regular team meetings to keep all our campaigns aligned, and they work best in person.

That said, to really get to know someone, you should take it outside the boardroom, have lunch, break some bread. You'll come to realize how each employee is different, and how you can augment your leadership style to meet their needs and truly gain their trust and respect. Taking the time to build relationships leads to a happier and more productive team.

4. Ditch the culture wars, and the tie

People stay at a company for many reasons, one of which is culture. A positive corporate culture takes years to form, but a new leader can destroy it in days with the wrong kind of approach, so be mindful of that. You probably joined your new company in part because you liked the culture, so encourage and improve it, even if that means more T-shirts and shorts than you're used to.

Also, avoid creating a culture of fear. If the team feels they can talk to you about anything, even disagree with you, chances are they'll have your back when you need them most.

5. Don't change what you don't understand

Change can be a necessary and healthy thing, yet many people fear it. Don't expect to transform your company overnight, and take your time when making changes. Ensure you have a firm understanding of how things work, and why, before you start fixing them.

Okay, that's five. But they all come down to one idea: communication. If there's one thing that just about every successful manager has in common, it's that they open the lines of communication.

Joseph Ottorino (@joseph_ottorino) is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada (@virginmobilecan).