New Leaders – Get Good Information and Build Relationships

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion; the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Open Communication

The techniques in these areas will establish the foundation to develop a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, accountability and action. I will discuss these attributes in a future post.

First Impressions

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

 

“What you do, not what you say, is what establishes culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on the following characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

To lay the groundwork for these cultural practices, you must first have good information, form relationships at all levels and communicate openly. The next two sections provide some techniques.

 

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Before a new leader is able to decide, initiate action or communicate intelligently, he/she needs good information quickly. It is vitally important to have information from different perspectives and different levels in an organization. Just getting information from one person/place can lead to narrow, sub-optimized decisions. Here are some mechanisms to obtain good information and simultaneously form relationships:

  • Skip-Level Meetings: Go to department staff meetings at all levels of the organization, starting with your direct reports, if you are a manager. This also works for project team leaders. You may simply listen during the meeting, but a simple round table discussion also works very well. Popular questions are: what is working; what is not working; what is frustrating; what should we stop doing; what decisions are holding up progress?

 

“It is vitally important for leaders to have information from different perspectives and levels.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

There are several benefits to skip-level meetings. Not only do you get good information from “the front line,” but it is also a good place to find things that people can be empowered to fix, thus setting the tone for delegation, action and decisiveness. Two fundamentals: 1) Always listen and question; 2) Be cautious not to manage around the team leader.

  • “State of the Union” Meetings: These are short one-on-one meetings for a person to give you a summary of the situation for a group, team, department or project. It does not have to be a polished presentation, just a discussion from an outline that covers: priorities, issues, decisions needed and what to start, stop or keep doing. Basically, let the person tell you what they are doing, what is going well and what needs attention. Again, look for opportunities for decision and action.