10 Tips for Rookie Leaders. What to do in the First 100 Days

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a brand new leader, every time you take on a new leadership role, you are the rookie. You are the “newbie” and everyone will be watching you. One of the most important things I have learned in more than 25 years serving in various leadership roles is that the first 100 days are critically important. This is when the new leader sets the tone for how the organization 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. You are under a microscope and everyone is closely observing your every action. Everything you do is seen. Everything you say is dissected and discussed. People notice where you go and even what you look at.

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

Here are 10 activities to consider in your first 100 days in a new leadership role:

 Let your team know who you are. Every time a new leader is assigned to a team there will be anticipation. People will have concerns and expectations. It’s important to have a meeting with all team members to fully introduce yourself. Use stories and examples to let them see your character.

Get out of your office and be visible. Spend time where your people are. Actively listen to their questions, concerns and ideas. Be open and engage them on the subjects they care about. Get to know them by asking open ended questions. Let them get to know you as well.

“See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.” Bill Marriott

Meet with key employees. Don’t assume you understand the problems and challenges facing your team. I like to have one-on-one meetings with as many people as I can. I want to know the biggest challenges and most important issues facing the organization. I also want to understand what needs to be addressed first.

Set expectations early. People want to know what you stand for. Communicate your expectations as soon as you can. Let them know what is important to you as a leader. I typically send a list of my top 10 expectations to my team in the first few weeks so they know what I expect and they don’t have to guess.

Set an example. Your minimum behaviors will be your team’s maximum performance. If you expect people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you expect managers to get out of their offices, you need to be out of your office. If you expect people to wear their safety equipment, you need to wear your safety equipment. It’s simple. Just as children follow a parent’s lead, your team will take cues from you.

Signal your priorities. What’s important to you will be seen by your team. If you spend the first two hours of each day on your computer and not with your team, they will see that. They will assume they are not as important as your e-mail. If you concern yourself with only the inventory numbers and not the on-time delivery results, they will think you don’t care about customers.

Create a buzz. Take advantage of the early attention you have and do something to get everyone talking. Make it extreme so the message is clear. This is something I like to do. In one manufacturing plant, I had the maintenance team paint over all the signs for the reserved parking spaces for managers, including mine. The message was simple, there is no special treatment for managers. We are in this together.

Communicate with employees regularly. During a leadership transition, employees will want to know what’s going on. Will there be any organization changes? What are your initial observations? How are things going? It’s good to send a weekly e-mail to your team to let them know what you are seeing and what they can expect. In the absence of good communications, there will be worry, speculation and rumors.

Create the mood. We all know attitude is contagious. Regardless of how you feel, you need to be upbeat and optimistic around your team. You still need to be empathetic when you have serious issues to deal with, but if you are consistently upbeat and in good spirits, the team will demonstrate the same behaviors. In the same respect, if you are quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive or sarcastic, the life will quickly get sucked out of your team. Think about what mood you are conveying every time you are with employees.

“You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.” Colin Powell

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 the future. 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. Setting the tone early is critical. All eyes are on you as the new leader, so make it count. Create a buzz, set an example, show your priorities, establish the mood and be present. You also need to communicate regularly to keep people informed. These activities will let your team know what kind of leader you are and what your expectations will be. This will help you down the line when you need to work as a team to address the tough issues.

A great book to read if you are just starting out in leadership is Percy Barnevik on Leadership by Percy Barnevik. He was my first CEO and an extremely dynamic leader. This book is filled with important leadership topics written in short snippets, in a topical fashion.

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