What's a New Leader to Do?

Most of us professional and organizational people managers have had to take on a new team at some point in our careers. Obviously we did when we stepped into a management role for the very first time. And more than likely at some point thereafter either when team member's come and go or when changing roles, locations, promotions or completely leaving one organization for another. All of these scenarios mark an important transition that happens for a leader, team members and the organization as a whole. These transitions are critical and set the tone for much if not all of the performance for the leader's tenure on the team. From my own and colleagues, friends and families experiences these transitions are unfortunately often not given the weight they deserve in order to enable success and steepen the natural learning and performance curve.

This is top of mind for me because I've done it quite a few times over my career and even just recently. Below are the initial approaches I have found to be most effective when approaching a new manager role leading a new team.

Listen, Learn, Then Lead

Part of the approach I've taken is exactly what General Stanley McCrystal suggests in his Ted Talk, Listen, Learn, then Lead. He describes his own journey moving around into roles where he was the leader of increasingly large or specialized organizations that were not specifically or at all his expertise or skill set. He talks about how he learned to humble himself and walk in just trying to learn from those already there. Only then does he start to guide and lead.

It can definitely be challenging. Members of the team will want to know what you expect, know what you're going to change and what it's going to be like to work for you. It's an important part of the process to know where they stand so you can start to guide the team in the direction they need to go. If a new manager comes in guns a blazing chances are that decisions will be hasty and less than great. Start just by learning from your team.

Assess The Team's Foundation

A critical part that needs to be learned is where the team stands in terms of critical elements that every team needs to have in order to succeed. This includes the make up, charter, vision and behavioral characters of the team. These are crucial regardless of the business or industry the team is in. I think of these elements in terms of two models combined that were created by Mark Miller and Patrick Lencioni. They actually didn't collaborate that I know of but ended up created very complimentary models that intertwine nicely.

Miller highlights the make up of the team which includes talent, skills and community. Talent being that raw potential and abilities of the members, skills being more changeable, moldable and developable and community has to do with the identity and culture of the team. Lencioni illustrates the behavioral characteristics of the team which includes a foundation of vulnerability-based trust, open, constructive conflict of ideas, commitment to team norms and decisions, members that supportively hold each other accountable and achieving great results by putting the team goals ahead of individual.

It is vital that any new manager walking into a new team evaluates all of these elements of successful teams and starts their plan of action there before focusing on operations or the business otherwise you won't go too far.


Start Right Away to Build the Team for the Long Term

Dave Marquet says the true measure of success of a leader is when they are absent or after they have left the team of organization altogether. The reason this is has to do with how Marquet defines leadership which is one of the best I've ever seen: leadership is separating the success of an organization from the personality or ability of the leader, rather enabling it in its people and processes. If a leader effectively builds a flexible framework, competence of his team and organizational clarity then their team should not need them in a such a direct tactical way daily and now they've built a legacy.

So once you've learned from the team what their mission is, how they achieve it, how all the moving parts connect and where the foundation and dynamic is, then starts the process of the team, with your help (not the other way around) building, fixing, growing or evolving the systems, processes, mindsets and cultures that will live beyond your tenure as leader.



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