You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve dreamed of. You’re finally in charge. Being the new corporate head, division chief or general manager will be harder than you could have imagined. Here are ten tips to help you negotiate this unknown territory and remain grounded, while achieving the results you can be proud of.
1. Check Your Ego at the Door
You’ve gotten to where you are because you’re a superstar. You are brilliant. You worked harder than your colleagues and got promoted faster, too. Maybe you had passable technical skills, but excellent networking and people skills and brown-nosed your way to the top. None of that will help you now. It’s not about you any more. It’s no longer just your career. Your performance will now be dependent on the results you achieve through your team.
Companies usually appoint new leaders out of need. Perhaps the old CEO retired, or the previous division head was fired. Now it’s on you to achieve those unrealistic results. Even if you have been with the company for years, you must go in with a clear mind and survey the territory with fresh eyes. You may be tempted to believe you already have all the answers. Resist that temptation. Pretend you know nothing, and listen. Listen to your managers and direct reports. Listen to your line staff. Listen to your suppliers. Listen to your customers. Listen. Create forums where people will be frank with you. Take it all in, and fill a brand new slate.
3. Craft A Vision
After taking the helm, you will be expected to chart the course for the organization. You need to decide where you want to go, and the strategies you will use to get there. Your people need something to believe in, but you have to believe it first. Craft an inspirational and aspirational vision that will serve as your company’s proverbial ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’.
4. Create Buy-In
Regardless of how much talent and previous success, industry expertise and respect you’ve gained before taking up your new job, the troops will not automatically become loyal followers of you or your vision. You will have to earn it. You will have to win them over little by little and day by day by being consistent, passionate and respectful. Tell them the “why” behind the vision, and they will hear their own concerns reflected. Start with your leaders first, then communicate and over-communicate the vision company wide to make sure that the message does not become distorted.
5. Be Knowledgeable
To be successful, you will need to have a thorough understanding of all direct and indirect financial drivers: revenue streams, the cash and inventory cycle, direct costs and administrative expenses and operating and customer service key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to gain a thorough knowledge of these indicators to set the right goals and targets for your department heads. Creating a culture of reporting will be key. Your team should know what their KPIs are and how they are doing compared to target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and so should you.
6. Be Independent
It’s lonely at the top. Certain members of your team will try to ingratiate themselves to become favorites or be granted special privileges. Resist it at all costs. Have zero tolerance for this type of suck up behavior. Do not compromise your independence. Failing to do so will have you paying favors indefinitely. It will also create and over-politicized culture, and will earn you the mistrust of the less-favored and potentially more principled and hard-working team members.
7. Nurture Your People
You won’t be a leader if no one is following you. While fostering cronies and gofers is not acceptable, you still need to nurture your team. It is important to develop a mentoring relationship with each of your key players so that you can help them be their best. Theodore Roosevelt once penned the wise words: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
8. Foster Accountability
Being a nurturing leader does not mean you will stand for substandard performance. Your aim should be to continually get better results as they perfect their skills. You should have zero tolerance policy for excuses and finger-pointing. When someone comes to you with a problem, require that they also come armed with a suggested solution. When one of your direct reports makes a mistake, he or she should quickly accept responsibility, suggest a possible way out, and move on.
9. Celebrate Wins, Even Small Ones
While driving hard for improvement, innovation and accountability, it is important to take note of the successes. Failing to notice even small improvements will leave your team feeling unappreciated and will lead to frustration and burn out. Find ways to systematically celebrate wins and ensure that you apply it consistently. Your team will thank you for it.
10. Focus on Continuous Communication
Constant effective communication will be key to ensuring quality and consistent growth. Listening should be something the entire organization internalizes. Everyone’s voice is important. Create open and honest lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Make communication systemic by setting up weekly pow-wows and department meetings, regular staff polls and annual leaders’ retreats.
11. Never Stop Learning
No matter how much you know already, as a new leader, it will never be enough. Read as much as you can and keep reading. Seek out other business leaders who can mentor you and challenge you to become a better leader. Keep an open mind in all situations. Be humble. You are the boss, but develop the mindset that every single person in your organization has something they can teach you.
Are there any other important tips you would share to new business leaders? Feel free to share your experiences, and feedback in the comments section below. Good luck on your leadership journey!