Miles had just been promoted to his first director level position after two short years working for a large manufacturer in a complicated, highly regulated industry. What surprised him most about the company’s culture was how project-oriented the company had become during his tenure as manager. Common practice was to assign a project team to study the details down to the last detail. Miles felt that the phenomenon of analysis paralysis slowed down decision-making, and he wasn’t alone in this opinion. One of the reasons his boss chose Miles for the new role was that he was quick to make decisions and weigh options. Those skills had borne fruit over the past year, allowing the company to capitalize on opportunities while its competitors were still evaluating options.
Miles was confident that the power of his position would allow him to influence future decisions, but he worried about the team (and process) he had inherited. He wondered if they would be able to work with the agility Miles desperately needed for the organization.
“This team is used to working for an executive with a reputation for being risk-averse. She never made a decision without consulting with many other people and seeking consensus on her direction. While I value prudence, I don’t usually lead like this. How am I supposed to grow a team that’s run so differently?” Miles asked me.
His question wasn’t unusual, especially from a client who hadn’t handpicked his team. The core of the solution was how he would get to know each member of the team and evaluate their skills, without judging them based on his predecessor’s leadership style.
“It’s a natural instinct for a team to adapt to what’s expected of them,” I shared. “See where they are before you decide they can’t live up to your standards,” I warned Miles.
We decided to create a plan for his first 90 days in the new position. Miles and I agreed on some basic principles he needed to apply in his interactions with the team so that he could accurately assess the group’s strengths and avoid making hasty or ill-considered decisions that could hamper the team’s success.
1. Listen before you lead
Rather than dictating how the department should operate, spend time with each of your direct reports in their own workspace to listen and learn. What consumes their time and attention? How does this contribute to the goals of the organization? What institutional wisdom and history have they gained since taking on their role? Approach listening with the intent to understand, not judge.
Help your direct reports discover who you are and where you’re from. Share what you want to achieve, learn or advance. Structure easy ways for individual team members to interact with you and get your support when they need it. Follow up with behaviors that fit the person you promised. Consistency is the first step to building leadership trust.
3. Seek insight
Learn more about your employees than what’s on their resume or personnel file. Which values are most important to you? What do these values look like when they are in action? Does each person experience an alignment of their values, purpose, and passions in their current role? How do you intend to use all three to achieve professional and personal goals? Engage in deeper conversations that help further build understanding and trust.
4. Evaluate and align
Examine the talents on your team with an unbiased lens. Based on your own observation and input from team members’ discussions, determine who is and isn’t fit for their role. Find out who you are at risk of losing and who you would rather keep. Then identify what they need from you to stay engaged. Realign people and roles when you have the data to make smart changes.
Programs and projects that started before you took office should be examined impartially. Assume there were problems to solve or opportunities to take advantage of. What are these problems or opportunities? Are they still relevant today? If so, confirm that the right people are leading these initiatives. Identify who else could add value to the development of solutions if their voice was heard.
6. Question, confirm, celebrate
Teams often know best what works well and what doesn’t. Ask for their insight into projects, processes and past decisions. What would you change to make the department more successful? What part of it can you control or influence? Most importantly, find out where the team really excels and recognize and celebrate successes. People will go the extra mile when they feel their hard work is appreciated by leadership.
7. Look outside
In addition to your team, don’t forget to gather insights from external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and partners with whom the team works to achieve goals. Confirm that their expectations and requirements are met by the current operating model. Work together to identify areas for improvement and make them part of the decision-making process before making changes to team structure or function.
Implementing these seven principles will not only help you catalyze a great start in your new role, but also inspire your team to perform at their best.
Alaina Love is CEO of Purposeful Advice and co-author of The Purpose Linked Organization: How passionate leaders inspire successful teams and great results. She is a recovering HR leader, global speaker and leadership expert with Fortune 500 clients. Follow the love on Twitter, Facebook, youtubeor read them to blog.
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