Leading without Regret…The First 90 Days

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Every leader has been promoted into a role that they have never done before….this is the idea behind promotions.  Much like a golfer who practices on the driving range and in practice rounds, the actual tournament play is much harder and challenging with internal and external influences affecting the training they thought were perfected.  Leading others is the same way…you can prepare all you want on the “leadership driving range” but you have to be placed in real life scenarios in order to fully comprehend how you will react and how difficult (yet rewarding) leading others is.

Someone has to give you a chance at any new opportunity.  To me, there are several core principles to seeing if an individual is ready to take on a new responsibility of leading others:

  1. People are interviewing for a position before the job is posted. I value what a person does in the months leading up to a position becoming available more than what they share with me during the actual interview.  All inputs matter…I just like seeing how people act in normal environments in addition to what they share during a face to face interview for a leadership position.
  2. Would I want to work for them? Can they inspire someone to achieve a goal they did not think possible?  Do they have solid communication skills to make the transition from an individual contributor to a leader of others? Can they handle adversity when asked to implement a change that may be viewed as negative by their team? I have to answer yes to these 4 questions to feel comfortable with a potential new leader.
  3. Are they doing something to improve their skill sets? Meditation, personal development through books or webinars, Ted Talks or Blinkist sessions….Each person has to be working on their own development outside of the training a company provides.  My group has been asked to set an appointment in their calendar with themselves for 30 minutes per week on personal development.

After accepting a new leadership role, here are some tips on setting up a successful first 90 days:

  1. Stay Hungry and Humble: I often see new leaders get promoted into a role, get complacent because they finally have achieved that “next step” and forget the core principles that earned them the promotion.
  2. Spend more time figuring out what’s going right versus focusing on what’s going wrong: New leaders make the mistake of trying to fix the bottom 20% and focus their efforts on this.  Work with your top performers, discuss the successes they are having and look to replicate this performance with your other employees.
  3. Leadership versus authority: When you start a new role, you have to earn your team’s trust. A leader does this by listening to understand versus listening to respond, not making quick decisions, and communicating quickly and consistently on expectations.  Keeping your people uninformed creates distrust and anxiety.
  4. Make your own judgement on people and processes: I have seen too many leaders influenced by another person’s feedback on what is working or who their best or worst people are. Always listen to what others say, but don’t make decisions based on someone else’s comments, who may have a different agenda or perspective on a situation.  Make your own informed decisions based on the data you value.
  5. Be careful with drastic changes in the first 90 days: This is not to say that changes should not be made. Make sure the changes you are making are sound in judgement and the impacts to your team are clearly understood.  Change without proper communication leads to uncertainty about the change.
  6. Don’t be afraid to accept hard feedback: New leaders usually excelled in their previous position…now they are novices in their new role. Consistently ask your supervisor what you are doing well and what areas you need to improve on in the first 90 days. Also, ask your team what you could be doing better to help them achieve their goals.  Always Be Learning!

The most effective leaders I work with are genuine in nature.  They have an ability to inspire without trying hard to do so, and are consistent with their day to day actions…you always know what you will get from them.  As a new leader, you must remember that people don’t follow titles…they follow leaders who they enjoy working for every day.  Title management is temporary and shallow.  Effective leaders inspire and motivate, no matter what their business card says.

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