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Taking The Helm

By John Gronski

When you are entering a new leadership position it is always very exciting. You will want to get things right from the very beginning.

As a younger, inexperienced leader I made mistakes. Some blunders I made included thinking I knew everything there was to know about leadership, changing things right away before taking the time to understand what was really going on, and not taking the time to listen to teammates who had a great deal of time and experience working in the organization I was new to.

The crazy thing was, in theory I knew about some of these pitfalls to avoid. Still, I was a bit too aggressive and perhaps arrogant. I made things harder on myself and the organization than it needed to be. Fortunately, I was able to recover quickly once I had the sense to realize I was treading down the wrong path. Usually, it was a teammate who helped me to see the light early enough before a lot of damage was done.

I would like to share some lessons with fellow leaders about taking a new leadership position, whether it be with an organization you have been with for a while or a completely new team.

Approach the role with humility. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Avoid coming across as having all the answers.

Invest time upfront to build relationships and trust with your new team. Listen and learn what motivates each person. To grow trust, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust others first, even if you do not know them very well.

Before initiating big strategic changes, observe and assess what’s working well and identify real pain points. Evolution is preferable to revolution. Ask others what they think. Ask them what is working and what is not working. An interesting question to ask others is what they would change if they were in charge.

 It is important to use the input of the team you have assembled around you. Collaboratively solve problems. A good practice is to circle back with people who have provided suggestions and explain to them why or why not you have decided to use their recommendations. When you decide to make a change, explain the rationale.

Model the leadership behaviors and culture you wish to see. Your team will follow your lead so set the tone through your actions. An organization does take on the personality of its leader. If the leader is sloppy and does not care the organization will be sloppy and will not care. If the leader is professional and customer service focused the organization will be too. When you see someone demonstrating the behavior you are looking for, celebrate it. Recognize people who are helping to create the culture you are looking for.

Develop a feedback loop with your team and those you serve. Continuously gather input, reflect, and refine your leadership approach. Ask people how you are doing and consider their comments.

After gaining input from your teammates, create and communicate a shared vision and purpose. Do not assume the people in your organization understand your expectations and priorities. You must communicate these things at every opportunity. The people you lead are not mind readers. Communicate the same message repeatedly to create a shared understanding.

Connect the team’s roles to the bigger vision and purpose of the organization. Help people feel their contributions matter. You must create a sense of belonging for those on your team. When you ask people their opinions and empower them to demonstrate initiative and make decisions within their range of skill and experience you help to create that sense of belonging. When people make honest mistakes take the opportunity to coach them and help them learn from those mistakes.

Support your team by removing roadblocks, providing development opportunities, and recognizing achievements. Enable their success. Be on the lookout for resources they require to do their jobs better and do all you can to provide the resources your team needs.

Invest in mentoring and developing emerging leaders on the team. A key measure of success is growing the next generation. One of the most important roles of any leader is to develop future leaders.

Hold yourself accountable to act with integrity even when it’s difficult. Take the high road. When you mortgage your values to get ahead, you only get behind.

The first months are crucial to build the foundation for success. Remain strategic but flexible, collaborative, and focused on serving your team.

About John Gronski

Major General John L. Gronski (U.S. Army Retired) is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove LLC, a leadership consulting firm. John is the author of two books, “Iron-Sharpened Leadership” and “The Ride of Our Lives” and he is an international and Fortune 500 speaker. Learn more about John Gronski at https://johngronski.com/

Continue To Learn

John created a great online leadership development program. You can take online leadership development courses including Cultivating Trust, Introduction to Emotional Intelligence, and Conflict Management. Once you complete a course, take a short quiz, attain an 80% score, and download a certificate of completion. Find out more and enroll at Store.LeaderGrove.com

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