When you start a new leadership role, it is tempting to try and 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 a team and begins to change things immediately. Building leadership credibility is critical in preventing damaging first impressions.
Why is building leadership credibility so important?
As a new leader, you need to build trust within the team before you can be effective in your role.
1. Without leadership credibility, people see you as making unnecessary change
Leaders who make change immediately are often seen as making change just for appearances. When you applied for the job, people probably told you there were things that needed improvement in your team.
Therefore, if the situation remains the same, people will assume that things are still broken. Leaving it as-is means people will think you haven’t done anything to fix the situation.
The need to make an immediate impact often leads to many small changes which create a false impression of real change. Remember that just because you have a new leadership role, doesn’t mean that everything needs fixing. Some things probably work just fine the way they are.
2. Without leadership credibility your changes won’t stick
Unfortunately, unless you spend time building leadership credibility, you won’t be very effective. Making change is easy, but getting others to adopt your change is another matter. Joining a team and changing the way it works without selling the benefits first is likely to result in resistance.
There is a reason why people stick with the way things are. It is partly because what they are currently doing works, at least partly. You might disagree, but the status quo exists because it provides some benefit, for somebody.
Leaders who don’t focus on building leadership credibility will be unable to sell their ideas for change. Team members may appear to adopt changes, but will just continue to work the way they were before.
Building leadership credibility as a new leader puts you in a position to make change by building trust. This allows you to sell your ideas in a way that people want to take them on.
3. Without leadership credibility, people will think you don’t understand
You may have fantastic ideas for change in your new team. You may have used them before elsewhere and been wildly successful. However, people will view you poorly if you make change immediately. They will think you just don’t understand the current situation.
You might understand the situation very well. But some people will have been at the organisation for longer than you. They will claim that you don’t know how things work yet.
Taking the time to observe things before making change is useful in building leadership credibility. Otherwise you run the risk of hitting a brick wall – “that’s not how we work here.”
How do you build leadership credibility?
There are some simple ways to build leadership credibility. Taking the time to watch and learn is valuable.
1. Build leadership credibility by listening and asking questions
When arriving in your new team, you need to find out how things work. This is not only so you can make change, but also so people see you as being interested. If you don’t listen or try to understand, people will see you as an outsider. As someone who doesn’t really care, who just wants to change things so you look good.
Once you do understand the team, people will be less likely to question your judgement. They will know you have put in the effort to figure out how things work.
2. Build leadership credibility by putting yourself in other people’s shoes
Empathy in leadership is important when you join a new team. It can be scary being 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. Are you threatening them with your changes? 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?
You can read more about the importance of empathy in leadership in this post.
3. Build leadership credibility by showing commitment to your new team
Fitting in is important for a new team member, even if you’re the boss. You may see yourself as different to others based on your work experience, but being an outsider won’t help you. To lead your new team effectively, you are going to need to do it from the inside.
Many consultants make changes that are unsuccessful in teams because they aren’t “one of us”. When they leave, things just change back to the way they were.
Showing commitment to your new organisation can go a long way in building leadership credibility. Try attending social functions or volunteering to be part of internal groups such as social clubs. Show that you’re in it for the long haul and you’re going to stick around.
Anything that makes you seem like “one of the gang” will help you be part of your new team.
Entering a new team is never easy. It is regarded as one of the most stressful experiences you can undertake, which is even harder in a leadership role. Thoughtful leaders will take time to assess the situation, listen and ask a lot of questions.
Thoughtful leaders will also show commitment to the team and use empathy to understand how people around them feel. This is how you build leadership credibility. This gives you the best chance at being effective in your new role.