When you are a new arrival to an organisation, it is tempting to try to hit the ground running and to make an immediate impact. However, there are a number of factors to consider when arriving in an already established team as a new leader.
We’ve all seen situations where a new leader comes into an organisation and begins to change things with impunity. Building credibility as a new leader is a key factor to prevent damaging first impressions when you arrive on the scene.
Why is building credibility as a new leader so important?
As a new leader, you need to build trust within your new organisation before becoming effective in your role. Failing to do so will see you fall foul of a number of issues.
You will be seen to be making change just for the sake of it
Leaders who make changes immediately upon entering an organisation are likely to be perceived as making change, just to be seen to be doing so. When the new leader took on the position, they were probably told that something wasn’t working. Therefore, if a leader retains the status quo, it is safe to assume that something will still be broken. Leaving it as-is will mean that people will think nothing has been done to fix the situation.
The need to make an immediate impact often leads to a multitude of superficial changes being made to create the illusion of meaningful change. But just because you’re here, doesn’t mean that everything is broken. Some things probably function just fine the way they are.
You can’t change anything without people on board
Unfortunately, unless time is spent building credibility as a new leader, you will be ineffective. Making change is easy, but getting others to adopt your change is another matter entirely. Entering a team and changing its operation without selling the benefits first is likely to result in resistance.
There is a reason why people stick with the status quo and it is partly because what they are currently doing works, to some degree. You might see the situation and disagree, but the status quo exists because it provides some benefit, for somebody.
Leaders who don’t focus on building credibility and trust first will be unable to sell their ideas for change. Team members may superficially appear to adopt changes, but in practice, will continue to work the way they were before.
Building credibility as a new leader puts you in a position to make change by building trust. This allows you to sell your ideas in the hope that they can be successfully adopted.
You will be seen as misunderstanding the situation
You may have fantastic ideas for change in your new organisation. You may have implemented them before elsewhere and been wildly successful. However, new leaders will be viewed critically if they make change immediately because they will be seen as not understanding the current situation.
This may simply be perception. You might understand the situation very well. But people who have been at the organisation for longer than you will claim that you don’t know how things work yet. Taking the time to observe things before acting is valuable in building credibility. Otherwise you run the risk of hitting a brick wall – “that’s not how we work here.”
How do you go about building credibility as a new leader?
There are some simple ways to build credibility as a new leader. It is tempting to fly in at full speed and make change. Taking some time to get acclimatised and consider your approach can be valuable.
Listen closely and ask a lot of questions
When arriving in your new organisation, you need to find out how things work. This is not only so you can make change, but also so you are perceived as being interested in understanding. If you fail to listen and seek understanding, people will see you as an outsider who doesn’t really care, who just wants to change things so you look good.
Once you do gain an understanding, people will be less likely to question your judgement as you’ve put in the effort to get the lie of the land.
Put yourself in other people’s shoes
I’ve written about empathy in leadership before, and this is critically important when you enter a new organisation. It can be daunting to be a new leader, but it’s also daunting for the people around you. After all, things were going along just fine and now you are going to come in and change things.
Take some time to have a think about the people around you. Will they be threatened by your attempts to make change? What are they getting from their current situation which encourages them to stay as they are right now? Will change threaten their enjoyment of their work in some way?
Demonstrate commitment to the organisation
Fitting in is important for a new arrival at an organisation. You may see yourself as different to others based on your work experience, but being an outsider won’t help you. If you are going to lead your new team effectively, you are going to need to do it from the inside. Many consultants who are brought into companies to make change are unsuccessful because they are not seen as part of the organisation. When they leave, things can revert back to the way they were.
If you are able to demonstrate some commitment to your new organisation, this can go a long way in building credibility as a new leader. Some example include attending social functions, getting involved in conversations around the office or volunteering to be part of internal groups such as social clubs. Anything that makes you seem like “one of the gang” will help you integrate into the organisation.
Entering a new organisation is never easy. It is regarded as one of the most stressful experiences you can undertake, which is heightened in a leadership role. Thoughtful leaders will take time to assess the situation, listen and ask a lot of questions.
Thoughtful leaders will also demonstrate commitment to the organisation and use empathy to understand how people around them will feel. This is how thoughtful leaders can go about building credibility as a new leader and have the best chance at being effective in their new role.