It’s amazing the amount that managers have to learn when they begin a new position. Whether it’s a big promotion within the company or a new job with a new employer, new leaders rarely have a meaningful grasp of the circumstances they will be entering until they are already there. That’s a problem: unknown politics, misunderstood expectations, and relationships that often need to be built from scratch all stand in the way of anyone’s ability to be effective in a new leadership role. It’s a challenge even experienced leaders face, often time and again throughout their careers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In his Safari Original short ebook, Your Critical First 10 Days as Leader, leadership scholar and author Eric McNulty lays out a simple action plan for any leader to hit the ground running — or least jogging — right away. Eric’s focus is on relationships; after all, managing people is what leadership is all about. Begin with this excerpt and continue reading Eric’s essential advice for new leaders in Safari:
The Truth About Your New Role
Your elevation into a leadership role does not automatically make you a leader. It does mean that the organization has the expectation that you will lead, but the title does not come with magical powers. The designation of “leader” can be bestowed upon you only by your followers. You are a leader when people willingly follow you. As a leader, your success is not only about you but also about the achievements of the team or unit you lead.
New leaders often fixate on the obvious facets of organizational power: the resources they can deploy, the formal authority that comes with their position, and the access they control. You may, for example, have six direct reports and an extended team of 50 more. The size of your team relative to others sends a signal to the rest of the organization. If you are authorized to sign contracts up to $100,000, for example, that gives you some clout. As you will decide what issues and ideas get advanced to your boss or, perhaps, an investment committee, you are a gatekeeper. In one large manufacturing company I worked with, power was also signaled by square footage and furniture: Office size and decor were strictly allocated by rank. Having two side chairs rather than one was actually significant—and people obsessed over these superficial trappings.
Such positional attributes are indeed important. People need to see that you have the authority to get things done. They are also, in practice, quite limited. A certain amount of authority is handed to you when you walk in the door and taken away when you leave your position. With regard to this power, you likely aren’t that much different from the last person who sat in your seat or the person who will succeed you.
Far more important is your ability to influence others, as this will largely determine the enduring impact you create with your formal authority. Influence is an intangible resource that you carry with you. It’s the “juice” that effective leaders display in abundance. You can build important influence in your first 10 days…and continue to build it over your entire career. Robert Cialdini is an authority on influence and has identified six principles for building influence that are valid across cultures:
- Reciprocity: If you do something for me, I’ll return the favor.
- Commitment and consistency: If people commit to you early, they are wired to be consistent with that commitment (and vice versa).
- Social proof: The first follower is the hardest to get. Once people see one person following you, they are more inclined to join in.
- Liking: Remember Warren Bennis’s advice about being a better person—people we like have more influence over us.
- Authority: The greater your perceived authority from your organizational position or professional expertise, the more influence you will have.
- Scarcity: If you control something that people want, you’ll have influence.
The last two of these are tied to your organizational power, but the first four are much more in your hands. These are the keys to building influence in your first 10 days—and beyond—because they are the foundation of meaningful connection.
Distinguishing leadership as something behavior-based rather than as a right bestowed by title is what makes it possible for you to build your leadership capacity and capability. You undoubtedly come into the role with some skills and abilities; other skills and abilities you will need to work to acquire. Almost everyone has leadership potential, and the truly great leaders I have seen are never satisfied that they have fully realized theirs. They are like master crafts people who produce beautiful objects but who always see room for improvement. They are continually working toward greater mastery. So, although having an effective first 10 days is essential for a fast start, your overall development as a leader is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to consider your strategy and pacing even before the starting gun is fired.