Managers often end up in a situation when they are hired to take charge of a team/department that already exists and performs to a certain level. New leaders often find it difficult to generate acceptance because a team/organization is a complex network of emotions, relationships and issues. The history comes along, but is invisible to this new manager.
Two things add to this complexity. One is the time new leaders have to perform. They are often under pressure to perform and demonstrate some “early wins”. On the other hand, they cannot make any progress unless they have won the support of the team members. Second is that experience of leaders make it difficult for them to “unlearn”. They start operating within the confines of what they have experienced so far.
Here are a few mistakes new leaders make:
They fail to listen (this is #1 mistake). Joining a team in leadership position is an opportunity to gain team’s respect and support. Don’t squander this opportunity by hurrying into rapid action, dishing out directives, talking too much about your great past and giving elevator speeches. This is a sure way to alienate the team members. A new leader needs to seize this opportunity by listening. People want to explain the context provided they have an opportunity to talk. Give them that and you will know what drives them, their struggles and their ideas to grow. Missing this opportunity can be costly for your further journey with the team.
Worst, they criticize and/or threaten. Yes, there are issues in this team, processes are not optimized and there is some resistance. Try beating these issues with criticism and threatening that you will commit the second biggest mistake. Be appreciative of what team has achieved so far. Share the responsibility of driving improvements rather than keeping it to yourself. But more important than anything else: watch your words and impact they have on the team members. Keep them positive. Use “we” more often than “I”.
Or, they ignore resistance. Resistance is negative energy, but energy nevertheless. Two things you should never do: ignore the resistance and overpower it. Both will boost levels of resistance. Try directing this energy instead into constructive initiatives that leave people feel more valued. Once they see results of their efforts, resistance will slowly give way to acceptance.
They lose momentum. Sometimes, situation can be overwhelming establishment can take up months. Let it not affect your results. One of the simplest strategies to generate buy-in is to generate results. Establish goals, keep setting expectations, define milestones and let your team members stretch to achieve those. Handhold and facilitate when needed. Once results are visible, team fabric gets stronger. Results are the value statement for a new leader.
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So, what do we do? Get over with “taking over the team” mindset to be a facilitator for better results. Be positive, seek to understand first and focus on results. It all takes time, but it is all worth it.
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Bonus: Check out some excellent posts on Leadership Development at “The July 2012 Carnival of Leadership Development” by Dan McCarthy which includes my post Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion.