Five Ways a New Leader Sets the Tone


“As a leader you set the tone for your entire team.” ~ Colin Powell

You did it. You got the big promotion. You now have the opportunity to lead. You’re about to take over a department, a team, or a business. That’s great…now what?

After leading eight different manufacturing businesses in my career, I have learned the first 100 days are critically important. This is when the new leader sets the tone for how the business will be run under their leadership. There is only a small window of time when you have the full attention of the workforce so your actions need to be carefully considered.

The first thing to understand about leadership in the first 100 days is that you’re under a microscope. Everyone is watching you. Everything you do is seen. Everything you say is dissected and discussed. People notice where you go and even what you look at. (See a personal example of this here)

This is good news! It means you have an opportunity to make a huge impact if you take advantage of all the attention on you in these early days.

Here are some items that need to be on your list of actions:

1. Create a Buzz. Do one thing that everyone will be talking about. This can be a big or small item but it needs to send a message about how you will lead. As an example, when I took over one business, I noticed all the managers had assigned parking spots in the front of the building. I quickly found the maintenance manager and had him paint over all the manager’s parking signs including my own. My point was that managers are not more important than anyone else and shouldn’t have assigned parking. We are all in this together

2. Listen & Learn. Spend the first few weeks listening and observing. Look for the things that are going right and the big things that need to be fixed. I also like to have one-on-one meetings with as many employees as I can. The one question I ask them, if you were in my shoes, what would you do first? It’s amazing how much consensus there is on what needs to be fixed.

3. Walk Around. During the first 100 days, it’s important to be present. People need to see you walking around, talking to people, and observing the day to day activities. This accomplishes two things. First, you continue to learn more about your team. Second, you are seen as actively engaged and approachable. Nobody wants a boss who just stays in their office and doesn’t even know what their people do.

4. Set Expectations. It’s only fair that you also communicate your expectations to your team. For example, if you expect people to not use computers in meetings, tell them. If you want a monthly report from each manager, let them know. Don’t expect them to read your mind. I send a list of 10 expectations to my team in the first few weeks so they know what I expect and they don’t have to guess.

5. Cast a Vision. At the end of the first 100 days, your team’s strengths and weaknesses will be clear. You will also understand the opportunities and threats. The goal now is to communicate a clear vision for your team. Consider where you want to go and how to get there. Communicate this vision to your team in a way that is clear and concise.

Leadership in the first 100 days is an exciting time. You are under a microscope which means you have an opportunity to make a huge impact if you take advantage of all the attention on you.  These five steps will help you get a jumpstart on your new role and position your team for success.

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