Your first days as the new leader of a team can be a challenge – new faces, new places, the fire hose is on and you are definitely drinking in as much as you possibly can. And even as all this is happening, you are anxious to make a good impression, build your team, and start getting stuff done.
To relieve some of that pressure, and to help you get off to a strong start with your team, here are five new manager survival tips you can put into practice today.
1. Introduce Yourself
If you’re the new kid on the block, chances are most people will quickly know who you are, but you have the challenge of figuring out who everyone else is. The best thing to do is keep introducing yourself around, especially during the first weeks.
Reach out, be friendly, and tell them your name. If you want them to engage with you, you have to start by engaging with them. This is not the time to be shy.
If nothing else, try to remember their names. Here’s how:
Say it out loud. Repeat their name back to them as soon as you hear it, “It’s very nice to meet you, Jessica; how long have you been working here?” Doing this helps kick your memory into gear.
Say it again. Work their name into the conversation two or three more times so you keep it top of mind. When the talk is over, use their name one more time, “It was great to meet you, Charlie. I’m looking forward to working with you.”
Write it down. As soon as you can, add their name to your notebook, along with any useful or interesting facts you learned, both personal and professional. The act of writing helps improve your retention, and gives you a written record that you can use later.
Prepare for the next meeting. Next time you are likely to encounter them, review your notes first; you’ll walk into the room more confidently. More importantly, if they see you have made the effort to learn who they are, you have planted the first seeds of trust.
2. Ask the Question
Ask lots of questions. Even if you think you know the answer. You may be anxious to prove to everyone how much you know, but if you are the only one talking then,
1) you are not learning
2) people will see that it’s all about you
3) you might be wrong
Asking good questions is your smartest approach. What you hear back will tell you a lot, so listen carefully to the response. Here’s what happens when you ask good questions:
You get an answer. The response may validate what you already think, or it may add new information to your storehouse of knowledge; either way, it’s a gain.
You learn what the other person knows. Especially as a new leader, it’s not just about what you know, it’s also about what your teammates know. When you ask questions about that person’s job you can quickly determine the level of their skill and experience. Ask for their thoughts on company processes and goals and you will soon sense the depth of their understanding of the bigger picture and the part they play.
You find out what they don’t know. Some are willing to admit it; others may start to fudge. That’s pretty important to be aware of, too.
You show that you value others. By taking the time to solicit their input, you are demonstrating that you value the experience, ideas, and perspectives of others, and that is a good way to begin building trust.
3. Explain How You Think
As the newest person on the team, nobody knows how you function, or how the gears turn in your mind. Instead of playing a guessing game with them, be up front about what’s going on above your shoulders.
When they come to you with some information or ask for a decision, take a moment to walk them through what you are thinking as you respond.
It reduces anxiety. People don’t know how the new leader will react and that can make them nervous. When you calmly explain what you are looking for and how you see things, it helps them understand what they need to do.
You are giving them a chance to be successful. Most people want to do well, so help them out. Tell them what you like about what they have done and why. If their work is not up to standard, be clear about it, tell them why it’s important to do it right.
You are building leaders. By sharing your mental process, you are teaching them how to think, and how to make decisions. You are modeling leadership to them. And when you make this effort, you establish a higher level of trust and confidence.
If you are going to be the leader, clarity is key. Especially in those first days, your team wants and needs to hear from you so they understand the direction you are taking, and get a sense for what the rules of the road are going to be. Focus on things like these:
Values. Your team should know what is important to you, and why. Values serve as the cornerstone of your leadership, and can strengthen the ties that hold your team together, so don’t be afraid to talk about them.
Vision. It may take a little time to fully develop your vision for your team, but you can still start with some basics about how you see your team interacting. If you are looking for a collaborative, cooperative team of innovators, then talk about it, and get their input on how to make it happen.
Double-down with non-verbals. Words are valueless if your actions don’t back them up. Make sure you are a living example of the things you talk about. If you expect respect, then show respect. If you want loyalty, then be loyal.
The tighter the link between your words and deeds, the greater the trust you can build.
5. Don’t Believe the Organization Chart
Start with the idea that the organization chart is probably inaccurate. In fact it was probably wrong by the time the ink dried. People change positions, teams realign, assignments and tasks shift. So use it as a starting point, then ask good questions. Here’s what you may find:
People like to play to their strengths. Regardless of what the chart says they are supposed to do, people have their strengths and like to accentuate them. Others recognize this and use it to their advantage. You might have a marketing department, but later learn that the most innovative ideas actually come from that one person over in accounting.
It doesn’t show relationships. A two-dimensional line and block chart can never fully depict the complex relationships among people and teams. The Administrative Assistant in your boss’ front office may seem like an entry-level position, but if they manage her calendar and work-flow, there can be a lot more power in that position that the chart might suggest.
It’s not what they really do. As you meet with your teammates, peers, and co-workers, do a little prodding; ask them what takes up most of their time, what they are best at, what their challenges are. Ask what processes they are involved with and in what sequence.
When you understand the actual work flows, you will have a much better idea of how things really function, and as you develop your competence on the team, you will be earning more trust as their leader.
New Manager Survival Tips – The Takeaway
You are going to be anxious to prove yourself as the new leader. You don’t want to seem inexperienced or indecisive. But it can be dangerous to jump in and start making decisions.
Understanding who your teammates are and what they really do is an important first step. Helping them to understand who you are, is another.
And when you take the time to get to know your teammates, ask good questions, and listen carefully to the answers, you are starting to build trust.
And that’s good, because without trust, you cannot lead.
Want to learn more about how to survive those first days in a new leadership position? Check out the Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager Course for tons of videos and downloads that will help make your leadership journey a whole lot smoother.