In many comedies, a common theme is having an unfortunate start to a big event. While this is hilarious to us, the experience comes at the expense of those who were expecting a better beginning.
When leaders look back on the first time they took the reins, they often wish their past experiences were a comedy, since at least that would have given them a quiet chuckle.
Instead some of them regret having a weak start. Because that led to vague expectations and passive aggressive behavior before eventually devolving into a toxic culture.
I had a similar experience back in my university days. During my second year as an officer within a student organization, I got to see firsthand what a lack of clear expectations and follow-up could do to a team. This fueled my drive to become VP the year after; I knew there had to be a better way.
This was also the time when I was diving into my leadership studies. That meant during my time as VP, I ran a leadership experiment on my unknowing officers. The results aligned with real world success stories of CEOs who turned around companies. All because of a few secrets.
The Individual Matters
Why do parents and students care so much about faculty-student ratio when choosing an university? Because attention is one of the most important factors in developing a person. As a leader, this might be a lesson you want to pay attention to.
As VP, my highest priority was to develop my 10 or so officers into becoming leaders themselves. So I met with each of them privately. I listened to what their expectations were, what they wanted to get out of their time here, what was going well and what they were struggling with. I even repeated this throughout the year.
You may be thinking that this does not seem like a big deal but the outcome proves otherwise. My officers felt like they could trust me. They opened up more during meetings. They took charge without my telling them to do so. And all I did was listen.
This is the same strategy that Jim Dougherty did when he took over as CEO of Intralinks as it was failing. His first two actions were to go to his call centers to listen to customer complaints and to schedule one on one meetings with a significant number of the company employees.
This was not a small company, so as you can imagine, taking on those meetings ate up quite a bit of time. This made the board and other executives nervous. What the heck was he doing?
All he was doing was listening to the people who worked for the company. And he did this for six weeks.
What did this do?
He got buy-in from the people at his company. That meant that people trusted him, something most leaders can’t achieve in a mere month and a half. And when people trust a leader, they do everything they can to fulfill that leader’s plans.
But that’s only part one.
The Big Picture Matters Too
Once you get everyone’s buy-in, then you do what is normally the first step for a new leader: call a meeting with everyone to set the tone and share your vision.
The difference between normal new leaders and you is that everyone will come to your meeting with a whole lot more interest in what you have to say and a better chance of helping you carry out your plans. But that’s only if you follow up from your individual meetings.
Big meetings are where you show everyone that you are your word. If you heard someone give an good idea, you recognize them and their idea in front of everyone else. You demonstrate that you aren’t someone who leans one way in a private meeting and another in a public one. This is especially important during your first meeting.
This also includes any unpopular topics that need to be addressed. Sometimes you may need to be tough. For example, there will be times when people slip up. Don’t use them as an example, but still address the fact that someone went against set policies and what the consequences of those actions were.
During my time, did I enjoy bringing up other people’s mistakes? No. This made me extremely uncomfortable. But I still did it because otherwise I would be seen as a leader who couldn’t make good on his word and wasn’t thinking for the team as a whole.
Aside from making sure you don’t lose authority on day one, this is where people can really feel listened to. It’s one thing to be heard during a private meeting and another when you’re recognized for your input. This is severely underrated in today’s world. If you can do this, then you are golden.
What happens when people feel listened to?
They follow your decision, even if you decide on a different route than what they suggested. Once they know that you have considered their opinions and explained your decision, they will still carry out what needs to be done.
Consensus is a waste of time and energy. You get to skip all of the meaningless energy draining conversations if you make people feel listened to.
This is how Dougherty managed to execute on his plans so fast. With the amount of buy-in he had, his general meeting served to create a solid foundation for his next steps. There were no politics and no meaningless reluctance to take action.
He rolled out his plans in a mere month after his first all hands on deck meeting.
There is great value in planning out how you’re going to launch the team as a new leader. The first step for any leader is to win the trust of those who are going to follow them. There are various ways to do this but valuing their input and uniting them under a single purpose has always been a consistent winner.
What were Dougherty’s results?
And after implementing his changes with full confidence, revenue soared 600% for the company. This result came in a less than a year after he arrived. This is what leadership can do.
While he did it on a grander scale compared to 22 year old me, our goals were the same. To get those who follow us to believe in us.