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.

The Gift of Being Present

Our pastor told a great story last week. He shared his experience having meetings with people and their cell phones. He said the placement of the cell phone in the meeting would determine the interaction. If the person he was meeting with put their cell phone on the table face up, he would have 25% of their attention. If the cell phone was face down, he would have 50%. If the phone was in their pocket, he would have 75% of their focus. But, if the person he was meeting with left their cell phone in their car, he would have their full attention.

This story would be funny if it wasn’t so true. We all know those people who can’t engage in a full conversation if their phone is nearby. What’s worse is when you have a boss that can’t be bothered to focus on you. Unfortunately, there are too many managers today that are too busy or distracted to listen to their employees.

While it’s important that leaders find time to be alone, they must also engage with their employees. Open door policies are good but not if you can’t stop your work long enough to listen to an employee. Distracted and disengaged leaders create distracted and disengaged employees. And that’s bad for business.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This means that a vast majority of employees are indifferent to your organization. They come to work but they don’t give you their best efforts or ideas. What’s sad is that most people go to work wanting to make a difference, but years of being ignored by leaders have left them apathetic. They feel their company just doesn’t care.

So what are some ways to be more present as a leader?

Stop what you are doing and listen. The most important thing to do is to stop and actively listen to your employees. This sounds easy, but it’s not. Many leaders try to multi-task. They keep writing an email or reading a report while an employee is talking and they don’t fully engage. This leaves the employee feeling they are insignificant. A better method is to ask the employee to have a seat, finish your task and then fully listen.

“Only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” – Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Get out of your office. Most leaders spend their day surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of your office and spending time listening to employees will give you a different perspective. You will discover how things are really going. Employees can be brutally honest, which is why many leaders avoid this activity. If you are going to lead effectively, you need to be present and listen to the challenges facing your team.

“Leaders must be good listeners. It’s rule number one, and it’s the most powerful thing they can do to build trusted relationships.” ― Lee Ellis, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Get to know your people. When leaders and employees spend time together, they become more aware that they are on the same team. It’s easy to blame someone you don’t know or understand, for your problems. Listening to employees can help eliminate the “us and them” mindset. When you do that, you can better focus your attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life

Put your phone away. One of the best ways to be present is to simply put your cell phone away when you are around your team members. There will always be time to check your messages. If you eliminate the distraction of your phone, you can give employees your full attention. In return, they will feel important and you will gain better insights.

A vast majority of employees are disengaged at work. Years of being ignored by leaders have left them dispirited and frustrated. They feel their company doesn’t care. Distracted and disengaged leaders help foster this culture. You can turn this around by seeking a different path. Choose to be present. Decide to make listening to and engaging your employees a priority. Put away your phone and get to know your most important asset, your team.

A book I read a few years back, The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson, does an amazing job illustrating this important topic in an easy to read, parable format. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about being more present.

Communicating Bad News

It’s never easy telling people bad news. As a leader, I have had more than my share of experience telling employees things they didn’t want to hear. I once had to announce a plant closure and it was one of the hardest things I ever did.

Simon Sinek, author of the best selling books Start with Why and Find your Why, gets it right with this quote:

“More information is always better than less. When people know the reason things are happening, even if it’s bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Keeping people in the dark only serves to stir negative emotions.” – Simon Sinek

When communicating bad news, it’s best to be honest, empathetic and informative. Lay out all the facts and give your team time to absorb the news. Each person will process the information differently so it’s important to be present and available to answer questions over the next several days.

I also believe it is important to show your emotions. We are often told that, as leaders, we need to hold back our feelings. In the case of bad news, I prefer to tell people how I really feel. I find that people connect better with a leader who is authentic.

Delivering bad news is one of the toughest things we do as leaders. This simple advice from Sinek will help make the process a little easier.