Being the new leader at work can be tough. As you begin your new role, you have a perception of the job and the team that has been shaped for you through the interview process. (Sometimes very deliberately shaped.) Despite best efforts from all parties, you just do not know what you’re walking into until you’re in it. Further, what you are inheriting are countless unspoken expectations from your boss, peers and directs as well as an ever-evolving web of emotions that relative strangers have about you (even if unconsciously) that stem from their experiences before you joined the company. Blind spots abound. It can be super uncomfortable. The level of comfort depends on many factors: company culture, team culture, general attitude and disposition of the members of the team receiving the leader, ease of access to systems, reports, and other basic tools/tech needed to do the job.
In short: hiring a new leader is a test for everyone’s emotional intelligence. Trust me. I’ve experienced it many times from all sides. In my previous life as a recruiting professional, I’ve hired hundreds of leaders and stayed in touch with them as their first 90-days unfolded. I’ve BEEN the new leader several times. I’ve inherited new leaders several times. I now coach leaders and their teams through transitions.
Here are some best practices for showing up well, giving your boss a (truly) fair shake (not just in word, but in deed), and making sure you keep your own job in the process.
What to do:
- Ensure you schedule one-on-one time with them in the early days of their employment
- In your first one-on-one, give a brief introduction of who you are, what you (and your team) do and most importantly, ask what kind of context, background, history, and foresight you can provide. Tell them that you want to provide them with a deeper overview of your department and ask them where that meeting may fit into their onboarding process.
- In this (near) future meeting, share with following:
- First, be sure to schedule enough time for a deep conversation.
- Provide an agenda for the meeting and if possible a pre-read of any information you will share.
- Give her/him an overview of the “health” of your department (financial, cultural, where you are to goal, risks, opportunities, etc). I always recommend you formalize this in a presentation so that they can revisit it once they aren’t swimming in new-hire overwhelm.
- Who are the key players on your team? Is there anyone they should meet with one-on-one? Any risks of key players leaving and what would that mean to the business if they did? Any key open positions you are hiring for and do they know any rock stars who could fill those roles?
- What are the key approvals you need from him/her (process, financial, other)?
- What systems do you use and can you help them gain access if they also need to interact with it?
- What low hanging fruit or departmental wins can they help you achieve in their first 90-days? They win. You win.
- What political or relational landmines exist that they should know about? Share this with grace and professionalism. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to be shared with others. (Need I advise: don’t put this in writing?)
- How do you measure success on the team and how can you make that visible for your leader? What reports and updates should they expect? Provide them with the most recent copies of each.
- If your leader was not provided with an onboarding plan and pre-scheduled meetings with key stakeholders, offer to help them with setting those up (at least for your team and anywhere else you may have influence and/or access in the organization). Most organizations do not onboard employees well. Help a guy/gal out!
- Ask them about their leadership style and how they prefer to receive information. Email? Phone? In-person meetings? What meeting frequency do they prefer for your one-on-one meetings? What do they like to cover in one-on-ones?
- What do you want them to know about you? Your leadership style? Your needs?
- Finally, at some point in the meeting, ask them what support they need during this transition. Offer to be a partner to them as they navigate their new role.
What NOT to do:
- Participate in water cooler gossip. You’re a leader. Bring your EQ to work with you and set the example.
- Wait for them to come to you to make introductions and start the “get to know you process”.
- Make the new leader pay for the “sins of the father”…if you’ve got beef with someone else in the organization, perhaps YOU wanted the job, or you’re angry your previous boss was let go, this is not the new leader’s fault. Have mercy! If you set them up to succeed they may be a key player in alleviating your discomfort somewhere down the line.
- Let them hang themselves with something they can’t see coming because they are new.
- Leave them trying to figure out what your team does, how you work, etc.
- Focus on flaws, what you don’t like about their leadership style, personality, and other trivial things. No mean girl/boy, high school chatter. (You KNOW what I’m talking about.) Look for what is right about your new leader and what possibilities they bring. Remain open to the fact that you do not truly know a darn thing about them. A new leader is to be experienced, not simply analyzed from the outset.
Some of you are reading the “do not” list and thinking “Would people really do this?” The answer is YES. I have seen new leaders run for the hills (or worse, fired) after 90-120 days dozens of times over the years as a result of these things. I’ve also personally been on the receiving end of each of these behaviors as a new leader.
Working through this kind of stuff truly informed how I showed up for the executives I reported to going forward. As new leaders entered my work-life, I followed the “to do” list above and I share the recommendations with my executive clients today. These have been tested and approved!
As with all things in life and leadership, I encourage you to choose who you want to be and how you want to show up. You have both the power and capability. Fill your professional karma bank up with goodness, kindness and generosity by showing it to others. What you give, you will always receive back. You get to choose what that looks like.