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.

Get out of your Bubble: Why the Secret to Great Leadership Insight is found in the Breakroom, not the Boardroom

What if you could know what your employees were thinking? What if you could see the company through their eyes? How would your leadership efforts change if you knew what truly motivated your team?

Believe it or not, understanding your team and how to lead them effectively is easier than you think. The problem is most leaders don’t spend enough time with employees, really listening to them.

“Leaders must recognize that the key to success and growth is getting employees to tell you what’s really going on.” Vineet Nayar

Listening to employees is a critical skill to master in order to become a more insightful and effective leader. This seems simple but it’s often overlooked. Most leaders spend their day in a bubble. They find themselves surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of the office and spending time listening to employees will help you break out of that bubble and give you a different perspective.

Here are four ways that listening to employees improves your skills as a leader:

You create relationships. When you spend time listening to employees, you get to know them and they get to know you. In the process, you build mutual respect. You build a relationship. As you learn more about their passions and challenges, you understand how to lead them more effectively. They will also get to know you better and the reasons behind your actions.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

You face reality. Listening to employees gives you a unique perspective. You 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 confront reality and address the challenges your team is facing.

“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.” Richard Branson

You uncover common themes. As you listen to employees, you discover common themes. These are small pieces of narrative that tell a bigger story. You might find that employees are having a problem with one of your supervisors or a new piece of software. You may uncover a common customer complaint or lingering production bottleneck. Spending time with employees gives you access to the raw data that is often filtered out in a traditional command-and-control structure.

 “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard Baruch

You build a team. 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 we do that, we can better focus our attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

Some of the best leadership insights are found in the breakroom, not the boardroom. If you find yourself surrounded by people who see the company exactly as you do, you probably need to break out of your bubble and go spend time listening to employees. This simple act will help you create critical relationships, confront reality, uncover common concerns and build a stronger team.

The One Mistake to Avoid as a New Leader

You got the new job. You accepted the promotion. You’re in charge now. Whether you’re a first-time leader or an experienced manager in a new role, the first 100 days are critical. It’s important to set the tone early.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new leaders make is when they spend all their time working in their office. It’s even worse when they work with the door closed. It’s natural to feel the need to work hard when you are moved into a new role but isolating yourself is the worst thing you can do as a new leader. You need to get out of your office and go to where your people are. You need to employ MBWA.

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

MBWA stands for “Management by Wandering Around.” MBWA means getting out of your office and wandering around in an unstructured manner. The goal is to walk through the workplace to check with employees, equipment, and the status of ongoing work. MBWA was originally used at Hewlett-Packard and described in detail in the book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. It’s a great way to “see and be seen.”

Here are 4 reasons why you should get out of your office and employ MBWA:

Observe. Go to where your people are and see what is going on. Observe the conditions, the mood, the work-in-progress, the activities, and the potential problems. In Lean Manufacturing terms, observe what is happening at gemba, the place where value is created. Don’t rely on reports of what is happening, go see it yourself. What is working? What isn’t? What problems do you see? What areas need improvement? A leader that observes his team understands their challenges.

“Expect what you inspect.” W. Edwards Deming

Listen. Listen to what your team is saying. People love to talk. Ask them what they are working on. Find out what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask them for areas they think should be improved. You’ll be surprised what you learn. Many employees have great ideas but they are reluctant to share because they were ignored by managers in the past. It may take a while to get the best ideas but keep at it. The more you listen, the more you show you care.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

Be seen. One of the biggest reasons to get out of your office is to be seen. Your team will appreciate the fact you took the time to see what they are doing. It shows you care. They will also be observing you closely so you can use this time to demonstrate your values. If you spend time looking at the safety of the workplace, they will know you care about safety. If you pick up trash, they will see you care about having a clean workplace. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

“Quality requires your Presence.” Eckhart Tolle

Communicate. Spending time with your employees in their work environment gives you the opportunity to communicate one-on-one. This is when you can get to know your people more and answer their questions. It’s hard in large meetings to communicate the reasons for your actions but one-one-one time allows you to clarify. Listen and talking to your team shows respect and it demonstrates you care.

“Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of the one for the other.” Benjamin E. Mays

Don’t make the mistake of spending all your time in your office and away from your team. Get out and be with your people. See and be seen. Communicate and listen. You will learn new things and observe what is really going on. Your team will appreciate that you took time out of your day to be with them.

What do you think? Have you tried MBWA? How did it work? What else can we gain by getting out of our office and going to where our people are? Let me know in the comment section below.