5 Keys to Setting the Tone as a New Leader

Whether you’re a first-time leader or an experienced manager in a new role, the first 100 days are critical. People are watching you closely which can be intimidating but it also can be used to your advantage.

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

Setting the tone is imperative during these early days. Here are five things you can do to let people know what type of leader you are.

Create a buzz. Do something to get everyone talking. Make it extreme so the message is clear. This is something I always 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.

Set the 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.

“The reality is that the only way change comes is when you lead by example.” Anne Wojcicki

Signal your priorities. What’s important to you will be seen by your team. If you spend the first hour of the 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 spend a meeting constantly looking at your phone, they will assume their presentation is not a priority for you.

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

Establish the mood. We all know attitude is contagious. Regardless 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. In the same respect, if you are quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive, sarcastic, or hidden, the life will get sucked out of your team.

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

Be open, available, and visible. Go to where your people are. Greet them every day. Show interest by actively listening and being open. Engage them on the subjects they care about. Your team will see you care and are interested in their thoughts and opinions. They will see you as open and willing to listen. They will be more likely to share their true feelings about the challenges they face.

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. These activities will let your team know what kind of leader you are and what your expectations are. This will help you down the line when you need their help to tackle the tough issues.

To learn more about how respected leaders set the tone, read Colin Powell’s leadership book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

The Secret to Great Brainstorming


Brainstorming is one of the most effective methods of engaging employees in generating new ideas and solving tough problems. If done right, it is a fast-paced, interactive session where new ideas are generated. As a leader, the challenge is facilitating the discussion to ensure the absolute best ideas are surfaced.

Aaron Aders, co-founder and CSO of DigitalRelevance, suggests six steps to leading a productive brainstorming session. These include:

  1. Always go offsite
  2. Solidify your central focus
  3. Whiteboard your ideas in a Mind Map
  4. Create ideas, not plans
  5. Shut down “Blockers” and “Divers”
  6. Schedule the next steps

While this is an excellent list, I think Aaron is missing out on the most important thing you must do as a leader. It is critical that you engage the quietest person in the room. After 25 years of leading sessions like this, I’ve found the best ideas have almost always come from this person.

Aaron mentions two personality types you will encounter in brainstorming sessions, Blocker and Divers. A Blocker is someone who quickly shuts down ideas by deeming them impossible to implement. A Diver is just the opposite. This person will take up the session time by diving deep into developing the idea further. Both can derail a brainstorming session if not dealt with.

I would suggest there is another personality type you need to look out for, Dominators. These are the people who will dominate the conversation with their ideas and their opinions. If left unchecked, Dominators can take up all your session time and possibly lead you to miss out on other important ideas.

In the session, it will become clear who are your Blockers, Divers, and Dominators. It will also be clear who the quietest person in the room is. It is important that you engage that person to get their thoughts. You will almost always be surprised at the insight they bring. There are 5 reasons why I believe these people have the most interesting ideas:

1. They let others fire the first shot. Don’t let their silence fool you. They have strong opinions but they are waiting to see some of the other ideas first. This lets them contrast their thoughts with the opinions of others.

2. They are listening. Their silence means they are listening to all the other compelling ideas. This allows them to better refine their own thoughts.

3. They are thinking deeply about the problem. Henry Louis Mencken once said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” The challenge is that complex problems require deep thinking and the quiet person is thinking while others are talking.

4. They are considering a combined solution. Often, in these sessions, there are two or three big ideas that are being discussed and debated. I have learned that quiet members of the team are listening to the discussion and are considering an alternative idea that combines the best of several ideas.

5. They are waiting to see the debate reach some level of consensus. I’ve noticed these people usually don’t get into the early debate and discussion of ideas. They are more likely to sit back, listen to the discussion, and wait until a consensus is reached. It is important to engage them at this point. Often times, especially when they don’t agree with the consensus opinion, their insight provides the necessary spark to move the discussion forward to find an optimum solution.

Brainstorming sessions are an important leadership tool to gain employee buy-in and to gather a diverse set of insights, opinions, and ideas. If done correctly, it will provide both a powerful learning session as well as a consensus opinion on the important next steps for your organization. As you lead these sessions, it is important to understand the personality types you will encounter to ensure they don’t dominate the discussion. It is also critical to engage the quietest person in the room. You will almost always be surprised at the important revelations and critical insight they bring.