The role of a manager has the potential to amplify the talent within a team, greatly influencing team engagement and overall satisfaction. However, research reveals that many managers struggle to be effective role models, resulting in employee dissatisfaction and high turnover rates. While there is an abundance of information available on becoming a great manager, translating this advice into practical steps can be a challenge. In this guide, we provide you with impactful practices to implement on your first day, week, and month as a new leader. By following these steps, you can cultivate an environment where your team thrives, achieving their full potential.
Day One - Set Clear Expectations and Goals (also for yourself)
Setting clear expectations and goals is essential for fostering your team's success. By providing a clear roadmap of what needs to be accomplished, how it should be done, and what the expected outcomes are, you empower your team members to perform at their best. However, it is crucial to be specific in your expectations to avoid undermining your team's motivation with unattainable or constantly changing goals.
To begin, focus on clarifying expectations regarding fundamental aspects such as working hours, response times, preferred communication methods, core values, and the team's shared goals.
As an initial step, consider introducing yourself in the first team meeting in a personable yet professional manner. Share a brief background about yourself, including your interests and hobbies. Highlight the key experiences that have shaped your career thus far and express what is important to you. Keep this introduction concise, lasting no longer than 5 minutes. Conclude by stating the aspects you appreciate in the workplace and those that don't align with your preferences. For instance, you might mention valuing punctuality, kindness, and proactivity, while expressing that working late hours doesn't suit you. Encourage team members to follow suit and share their introductions. Document these notes internally to promote transparency and alignment within the team.
Establishing a habit of transparent and straightforward communication regarding your preferences and expectations makes it easier to set expectations for day-to-day work. By becoming accustomed to openly discussing both positive and negative aspects, you will find it easier to provide transparent and constructive feedback when necessary.
Transparency and the articulation of expectations improve with practice. Starting on Day One is crucial for instilling this practice as early as possible within the team, fostering a culture of open communication and clarity.
First Week - Lead by Listening
Listening is a critical skill for effective leadership. By actively listening to your team members' ideas, concerns, and feedback, you show that you value every opinion and are committed to creating a culture of open communication and collaboration. It's essential to refrain from implementing immediate changes without a thorough understanding of the team and its dynamics. To ensure clarity and transparency in your leadership, establish a learning objective for each meeting you have with your team.
Begin with a meeting focused on understanding more about each person and their motivations. Then, schedule regular one-on-sessions to discuss in-depth progress, goals, and concerns. Create opportunities, such as surveys or team meetings, for team members to openly share their ideas and feedback. If the team seems to navigate well a transparent exchange, initiate discussions on challenging topics within the group, as the benefits of addressing difficult issues regularly outweigh the potential risks.
At the same time, start assessing the team’s processes by evaluating productivity, timeliness, reliability, and quality through four simple questions. Ask yourself and the team: is the process producing the desired output, is it delivering value according to deadlines, is it working every time, and is the level of quality according to the person’s standards. This four-dimensional assessment can be applied to any regularly repeated workflow within the company.
You can also establish open-door policies, where team members can share ideas or concerns freely at any time, not just in 1-1s.
Practicing active listening helps identify champions within the team and establish a deeper connection. When adjusting to a new team, encountering some level of resistance is normal. By positioning yourself as a leader who listens without judgment, you create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing concerns and resistance, leading to improved team dynamics and problem-solving capabilities.
Second Week - Cultivate a Collaborative Culture
When fostering a collaborative environment, you empower team members to work together towards shared goals, share knowledge and ideas, and build strong relationships.
You maximize your chances of instilling a truly collaborative culture in your team if you take multiple initiatives aimed at it. In the second week, organize activities that encourage sharing among team members. For example, trivia or two truths and a lie can be fun activities for in-person or remote teams. Additionally, consider using personality tests to gain insights into work preferences.
During this week, identify a small group work project that has a high likelihood of success, providing the entire team with quick wins. Celebrating these early victories boosts motivation and instills a sense of accomplishment within the team.
By fostering bonding and trust, team collaboration is strengthened. Through small projects, group roles emerge naturally, enabling the team to establish effective collaboration patterns. As the team becomes more established and takes on more complex projects, their collaboration skills and confidence will have already been built through previous successes.
The earlier these bonds are created, the better. The one exception is if you anticipate making changes within the team, such as letting go of certain members. In this case, it's important to hold off on team-building activities until the changes have taken place.
Third Week - Establish Consistency and Accountability
As a leader, it's essential to lead by example. If you expect your team members to work hard, be punctual, and communicate effectively, you must demonstrate these qualities yourself. By setting a positive example, you convey your expectations and foster a culture of accountability. The same principle applies to providing and receiving feedback. Constructive feedback is vital for growth and development, and the manner in which it is delivered is just as crucial as its content.
Before providing feedback, ensure your team members are ready to receive it and deliver it and you know how to deliver in a constructive and supportive manner according to the person's preferences.
Understanding the feedback preferences of individual team members, such as private or group settings and direct or indirect approaches, allows you to tailor your feedback for maximum effectiveness. Prior to your one-on-one meetings in the third week, set the topic of feedback and communicate that you would like to have a feedback exchange session, where you welcome feedback from the team member about your leadership. If you have any specific areas of concern, list them as items for discussion.
At the beginning of the meeting, discuss your own preferred feedback style and establish the cadence for exchanges. After the team member has expressed their preference, initiate the feedback session. Be open, flexible, and ask clarifying questions if needed. When receiving negative feedback, avoid being defensive and instead take it with you for reflection.
Regular feedback exchanges build trust and maintain open communication channels within the team. Even during periods with less available feedback, such as when working on routine tasks, it's important to continue practicing regular exchanges. This practice strengthens trust in your leadership and ensures that communication channels are well-established when critical feedback needs to be shared.
Feedback sessions also provide valuable insights for performance reviews and allow you to stay connected to your team's efforts.
Fourth Week - Articulate a Shared Vision and Mission
Having a shared sense of purpose is directly linked to the level of engagement within your team. Instead of solely dictating the team's purpose, involve your team members in shaping it. Drawing from the company's vision and mission, provide clarity on non-negotiable elements of your team's vision while allowing flexibility in other areas. Creating the team's purpose collectively can be a significant and memorable moment, so it's important to document the discussions and outcomes. This shared purpose should be visible throughout the company, such as by sharing it on the intranet or in the relevant documentation.
Bring the team together, preferably in person but remote settings can work too, to discuss your team's future direction. Present your vision elements and indicate which aspects are flexible and which are non-negotiable. Then, encourage brainstorming sessions in smaller groups followed by a general discussion to shape the team's vision and mission. While flexibility is important, ensure that the established purpose aligns with your behaviors and the desired direction for the team.
Your team's purpose guides their actions and decisions, fostering engagement and unity. By involving team members in shaping the vision and mission, you gain their commitment and buy-in. Over time, this shared purpose will influence how success is defined and achieved within the team. To further reinforce the vision and mission, develop practical operating principles that exemplify expected behaviors. Regularly communicate and repeat the vision and mission to strengthen the team's identity and reinforce its application through stories and examples.
Leadership is a Continuous Journey
Becoming an inspiring leader who people want to work for requires an ongoing commitment to building strong relationships, promoting open communication, and fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous learning. Effective leadership is not an easy task, but by gradually incorporating positive leadership behaviors and continuously developing yourself, you can create an environment where your team members thrive and reach their full potential.
When stepping into a new leadership role, take the time to establish solid foundations. Each week, gradually incorporate additional positive behaviors. If you need guidance on where to start, feel free to reach out for assistance. I'm here to support you on your journey to becoming an exceptional leader.