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Whether you’re an experienced leader in a new leadership role or leading others for the first time, you’re bound to feel some uncertainty when you become the new boss of a team.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to start any new role. The wrong way is to not listen and to make drastic, sudden changes.
So, what’s the right way? In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we sat down with Naphtali Hoff, leadership coach and author of Becoming the New Boss: The New Leader’s Guide to Sustained Success, to learn what to do when we enter a new leadership role. The struggles new bosses encounter are pretty common, whether it’s your first time leading or you’ve been 20 years in the field. Read on for a look inside the episode, which you can also listen to above.
How to Be the New Boss
“While I did some great things in school leadership, I also made a bunch of mistakes,” Naphtali says about his first months leading a new school when he served in education before transitioning to leadership coaching. One of the most important things he learned through that is leaders must select the best way to implement change. To be able to do this, you must:
1. Spend the first months listening.
Take time to get to know your people and to let your people get to know you. “If you get people behind you, a lot of good things happen afterward,” he explains.
2. Pace yourself.
“You have to determine how quickly—or not so quickly—to begin to implement your ideas,” he says. Learn who the people are, develop those relationships, understand the history, figure out past pain points, make a well-paced plan and secure some early wins that are low cost before making any major overhauls. Low-cost wins could be something as simple as improving the way people get paid or how information is communicated. “It allows team members to say, ‘This person is starting to make improvements. It doesn't cost me anything. I can see that they are beginning the process of identifying opportunities and how can we grow.’”
If a new leader charges in with a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality, that’s going to hurt relationships on the team. “Change is difficult for everybody, no matter how long they've been in the position,” says Naphtali.
He shares a story about implementing a behavior program in his school: They identified four values, behaviors and incentives, and for the most part, the staff was on board. “One teacher piped up and started to argue with it,” he continues. But he didn’t have to defend his position—another teacher did it for him.
“A teacher got up and said, ‘Look, we've already discussed this. We've already agreed to it. We're well on our way.’” Because Naphtali had others on his side and implemented change in a gradual but realistic way, he didn’t have to go to bat for himself at that moment.
...By Showing Integrity
To leverage support, you need to focus on trust. Especially when a new person comes in, people have doubts. It may not be mistrust, per se, but no trust has been established to say otherwise.
Spending time building trust among new followers or new teammates is essential. Show integrity by understanding your leadership quadrants of the ABCD Trust Model by Ken Blanchard; ABCD stands for able, believable, connected and dependable.
Let’s say you’re great at being connected but really bad at getting back to someone when you say you will. That damages your integrity. Leaders don’t have to be good at everything, but they need to know if they have big gaps.
“Real leadership is it about managing your weaknesses while accentuating your strengths,” he says. “Maybe you need to find somebody to help you become at least satisfactory in the area of being dependable so that your greatness in the area of being connected can really shine through.”
A New Leader Worth Following
Naphtali identifies two traits that make a new leader one worth that’s following.
1. A good leader knows how to measure success.
“It's a matter of reimagining your work, reimagining your role,” he says. Define what success means to you, and then start scheduling. “To be a leader now means to be pulled a thousand different directions,” he adds. Set goals, block time and get to work.
2. A good leader shuns the limelight.
Many of us have a Hollywood vision of what great leadership is: someone charismatic who is comfortable in the spotlight. But this isn’t always a great leader. “Oftentimes the greatest leaders are introverts,” explains Naphtali. “They stay out of the limelight. Their focus is not so much about drawing personal attention to their work, but serving the people around them.”