One of the most challenging times to be a leader is on the first day with a new team. I’ve frequently seen ambitious, capable individuals tarnish their promising opportunity by trying to change things as soon as they walked through the door. It’s at these times when I recommend the leader slow down. It’s like a standup comedian walking onto the stage. Just Ask Marlon Wayans.
Marlon Wayans is a successful comedian, actor, producer, and director. Not only did he star in the classic sketch TV show In Living Color, but he wrote and co-starred in the first two films of the Scary Movie series, was on the successful sitcom The Wayans Bros., and is a professional standup comedian. In a recent interview, Marlon was comparing his act with amateur comedians. One major difference was pacing. While amateurs start with their best material,…
…for the first five minutes, I’m feeling you out. I’m Floyd Merriweather just throwing jabs. I want to see how you react…I’m hearing what kind of audience I have. I’m looking at the front row. I’m looking in the back. I’m looking to see the diversity in the crowd. I’m looking to see who’s drinking. Who’s got what on their table? I’m looking at these little things because as I progress my act, I know where I can taken them or how far they’re going to go.
So how can a new leader pace themself? When they say, “I can’t believe you do it this way” or “Wow, this place is really outdated” the leader is probably not trying to sound insulting. But is there a constructive way to interpret this? The leader may be attempting to say, “we can do this better,” but employees hear, “you’ve done a really bad job and if you were smarter, you would have already changed it.” So if you are a new leader, before trying to prove why you were selected to lead, make an attempt to:
Observe. Watching other people may seem passive, but this is the first step to understand how the work gets done. Sure, it’s tempting to jump in and start making improvements, but first pay attention to the detail and nuances of the process from beginning to end AND the consistency amongst different people carrying out the same task.
Avoid judgments. As the leader, no one wants to look bad in front of you. So when you start the relationship with critiques, there is a natural tendency for the teammates to distance themselves from the “old ways.” That may be fine once you have a plan, but at the onset, you need unfiltered, unbiased information. This information will provide beneficial learning opportunities to help you understand the culture of the workplace, the influential power players, and the processes in place.
Ask questions. Instead of trying to sound like the expert, focus more on digging for information. Learn why it’s done the way it is. You’ll get an education and the people you speak with will feel like you care enough to get to know them and what they do.
Stop talking about your past. There is nothing more irritating then a new person who starts every conversation with, “At my last company, we did it this way.” Your best ideas will be met with resentment if you say, “at my last company.” Nobody is interested in how your last company did it. Skip the disclaimer and just say the idea.
Unless you are walking into an inoperative workplace, you have time to build a positive reputation. Once you’ve earned the team’s respect, it’ll be much easier to make the widespread changes that you are so excited to put into place. Until then, pace yourself. As Marlon says, feel out the room. Look for the little things that will indicate how you can best accomplish your goals. If you do it right, you’ll have a long, long time to show the organization how much you have to offer.