Hints & Tips Blog

How to have (the right) impact in a new leadership role

As Elon Musk takes the helm at Twitter in the much publicised on/off/on again deal, it made me think about what a leader taking on a new role needs to do to make their mark.

According to research by Oxford Economics, it takes almost 28 weeks for a new employee to really hit their stride and deliver optimum performance. But what if you’re a leader, or have been appointed as the CEO? You’re unlikely to have the luxury of over half a year before you need to show your worth.

Whether you’re new to the company, or new to that role, you have a relatively limited window of opportunity to make the right impression, and to deliver a meaningful start. So, if you’re not an eccentric but hugely successful billionaire like Musk, who made his entrance carrying a sink to help the news ‘sink in’ that he was now ‘Chief Twit’, and you’re operating in an SME, what can you do to start out on the right foot?

First impressions count

As a leader, whether a team leader or whole company leader, like it or not people will scrutinise your every move, comment, interaction and even what you don’t do. If you’re new to the company, they will be looking for clues about what to expect and what they’ll be ‘dealing with’ going forward. If you’ve made the step up in your existing company they will want to know if the ‘old you’ will survive, or whether they’ll have to get used to a different version of you, and how you will navigate the balancing act of going from being one of the team to leading the team.

So, think hard about what you will do on your first day, in your first week, your first months? Who and what you prioritise will send a message, so it’s important to get the message right.

Suspend assumptions and spend time with people – lots of people

It’s natural to have a view or make assumptions, we all do. Whether you’re new to the company or have been promoted from within, you’ve probably, sometimes subconsciously, built a picture of ‘how things are’, and even maybe ‘how they need to be’ at the company. You might be right, but you’re unlikely to have the full picture.

Test your assumptions, talk to people, meet as many people as possible to get a broader perspective and don’t limit it to the ‘usual suspects’. Meeting people from all departments, working at all levels, long serving and newer hires, will give you insights that management information and senior management meetings might not. Asking questions such as “what’s one simple thing we could do to improve x?” or “if you were me, what would you focus on first?” can not only provide useful insight and ideas, but also shows people you care about their views and value their input. It also starts to build a relationship and trust, important for getting buy-in for any future changes you might want to make.

Role model the right behaviours

Making time for people in the early days is one way to show what kind of a leader you’re going to be. And, in today’s complex, fast-paced and often uncertain world, we need ‘to be’ what ‘we want to see’ from others more than ever. That means setting the example in how you behave; from showing enthusiasm and interest in others and their ideas and being respectful, to encouraging debate and actively listening. While people look to the leader for vision, direction and to provide confidence, one person alone can no longer have all the answers. But they do need to create and inspire teams who together find the answers, feel able to suggest ideas and are motivated, committed and engaged enough to make them happen.

So, from day one in post, any new leader needs to be mindful that what they say and do (even in an off moment or on a bad day) will set the tone and drive the agenda, and their behaviours and actions dictate their ability to galvanize support and deliver success, or not.

Balance the need to act with the need to reflect

Many experts agree that the first 100 days in a new leadership role are pivotal in setting the stage for future success. But this is not the time to jump in and immediately make wholesale changes, unless of course there is a burning platform or immediate imperative that needs to be actioned to safeguard the business.

More often, using your first 100 days to gain insight, take soundings, build relationships, garner ideas and get under the skin of the business is time well spent. This will provide the platform from which you identify the priorities, develop the vision and create the plan for the future, that you can then share and enable others to help you shape. And don’t just limit your activities internally, but get out and meet key customers, suppliers, partners and other key stakeholders to get a fully rounded picture of how your business is seen, the future direction it should take, any course corrections required and identify actions you need to implement.

This doesn’t prevent you from introducing new ideas and identifying quick wins. A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes see opportunities that those immersed in the company longer term don’t, but be careful not to create a ‘new good: old bad’ culture. You will need people to buy into your ideas and feel included in their development, not excluded or defensive, so ‘selling’ and involving, rather than dictating or ‘telling’ in terms of your proposed changes and improvements can help ease the transition and deliver better results.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Last but certainly not least, any leader new into post must not just be visible but be able to communicate clearly and enable people to feel a connection. A big speech or fanfare on your first day followed by radio silence will not cut it with the troops and, ultimately, it’s your employees who will enable you to deliver the results you are aiming for. Whether it’s regular all-company updates (virtual or in person), regular messages on priorities and progress or encouraging upward feedback and engagement, you need to do something, and consistently, to build credibility and trust within your teams.

And one last tip, whatever channels and frequency of communication you think is right – add more. Complaints about too much information from management are rare, criticism that people are not being kept well informed are not.

Our team at BHP Consulting have all successfully run companies, through good times and bad. We know business and we know good leadership. Whether you have recently moved into your first leadership role or are a more experienced leader looking to refresh or re-energise your leadership skills, our Business Leadership Academy is for you. To learn more, click here or contact Rachel, our programme lead, at rachel.hannan@bhp.co.uk