If you are reading this and are about to make the move in to your first major leadership role, whether within your existing employer or somewhere new, exciting, and different…. CONGRATULATIONS!
How do you feel? Nervous? Apprehensive? Excited? Full of the energy you once had for your last job?
Your first significant leadership role is daunting. Full of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ (to clumsily paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld), the role offers you the potential to really demonstrate the skills and attributes that you, and others have long believed you possess. Admit it – for some time, you have looked at leaders above you and thought: ‘I could do that’, ‘I could do that better’, ‘if I were in charge…’
There’s nothing wrong with thinking those things at all, it is something that most workers experience; however, you are different to most – you have placed your head firmly above the parapet and chosen to assume that leadership role. That deserves credit and respect.
Nevertheless, credit and respect for accepting the job offer won’t get you through, and you know it.
Ever since you took the position you have written notes, created to-do lists, read a few articles on how to hit the ground running, and sought the opinions of others, but that internal interrogator is still posing questions that you seem unable to fully answer: ‘What do I do first?’ ‘Do I sell a big vision or start small?’ ‘How will I get them to listen?’, and most importantly if you have gained an internal promotion: ‘How do I get them to follow my lead and still like me, and invite me out to stuff?’
Guess what? Leadership is tough.
Leadership is not straightforward.
Leadership often requires you think and act differently to how you behaved as a co-worker.
Leadership requires choices.
When you then reflect on the concept of the ‘honeymoon period’ as a leader, and consider the limited time frame in which your staff will give you an impartial and fair ‘go’ at the job, you really start to have concerns over whether you will succeed. This fear is further compounded if you have watched people enter your working environment as a ‘leader’ and fail to live up to expectations.
Pressure to have a good start to your new role is perfectly summed up by people who talk of ‘the first 100 days’ (or some variant). This term was originally coined within American politics and has been used to measure the success or failure of the start of every new Presidency. Just look at the succession of articles, videos, and blog posts that seek to judge whether President Trump had a successful 100 days; in fact, even he adopted this approach, publishing a list of actions he would take, and bills that would pass within 100 days of his assuming office. Having a 100-day plan gives the impression of clarity of thought, unity of the team, and speed of travel, which for a fixed term leader can help to ensure momentum and a control of the narrative. However, it does have risk attached – failing to meet the expectations set by the plan can lead to the impression of weakness, delay, and incompetence which can wound, if not fatally, a Presidency.
The concept of the ‘first 100 days’ has become popular within business for similar reasons as above. A new leader can draw a line under any previous ‘administration’ and set out their own direction of travel and way of doing business which, if in a role that requires the turnaround of a low morale, underperforming team, can help to bring a fizz that has been to now, missing. However, a 100-day programme needs to be well considered, well executed, and regularly monitored; I would argue that it should be more like 140 days, with 20 days either side: clear planning and the re-charge of your batteries before starting (pre-100 days), and evaluation and a ‘what next’ plan to help keep momentum (post-100 days).
The most effective leaders have recognised that they cannot do the PLAN-EXECUTE-EVALUATE process of a 140-day plan in isolation – a coach or mentor is of real value to help the new leader understand who they are, what they want to bring to the role, and what can be achieved/can’t be achieved. Too often, a new leader attempting to plan alone will be over-ambitious, and will also assume that the goodwill of their new team will last forever, and this causes trouble down the line. However, by having an external individual who can challenge and champion, a new leader is more likely to be able to demonstrate authenticity, articulate shared values, and infuse proposed actions in to an overarching vision of a future filled with possibilities for their team.
If you are about to embark on your new leadership challenge now is the right time to really understand how a 140-day plan can work for you.
Don’t allow yourself to think that a couple of ‘to-do’ actions and enthusiasm can get you to where you want to go.
Think about what you would want your team to say about you, and what it was like to be in your team, when they come to speak at your leaving party.
Adopt the ‘fixed term’ mentality of American politics: recognise that you will not be the leader forever, and that you can make real impact quickly providing you PLAN PROPERLY, EXECUTE EFFECTIVELY, and EVALUATE THOROUGHLY.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and any experiences you may have had as a new leader; you can engage with me on here, on twitter and facebook, or by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck, and keep leading and learning!