Building credibility as a new leader

110413-N-OA833-002Whether you are an experienced leader taking over a new team, or a high performer moving into your first leadership position, taking over a new leadership role is challenging. As a leader taking over a new team, your first goal should be to gain personal credibility with your team and your leadership. Bear in mind that as a new leader your earliest actions will have the most impact on how you are perceived by your leaders and your team for the duration of your tenure. Thus, it is important that you have a well thought out plan for approaching your new leadership challenge. Although there is no “secret sauce” that will ensure you successfully build credibility in a short period of time, there are some characteristics that appear to influence how new leaders are perceived. New leaders are perceived as more credible when they:

Are demanding but not unreasonable. New leaders must establish their authority early on and set challenging, but achievable, goals. Leaders who are demanding and hold their teams accountable for high levels of performance earn the respect of their teams, peers and managers.

They communicate an inspiring vision to the team. As a leader it is not enough to simply be demanding. Leaders must inspire their teams to work hard to achieve demanding goals. The best leaders are capable of creating and communicating a vision that provides the inspiration to achieve results beyond the ordinary. This vision becomes the “why” that the team focuses on when things get tough, long hours are needed, and sacrifices are required to achieve the goals.

Are seen as willing to take rational risks, but are not reckless. Every new leadership opportunity involves taking risks. Indeed, every leadership opportunity involves taking risks. Leaders who are overly risk averse may be seen as lacking courage to do what is necessary to succeed, while leaders who take irrational risks are likely to gain the reputation as being reckless, or poor decision makers. Good leaders assess risks and weigh potential rewards against potential consequences, and take rational risks.

Are focused on achievable goals, but flexible in how they are achieved. Good leaders are masters at managing chaos. Stepping into a new leadership role is often chaotic as leadership transitions involve significant change, both for the new leader and for the organization. Thus it is important for the new leader to quickly identify key issues and provide focus on their resolution. It is equally important that the new leader align values very quickly to focus the team’s behaviors. Chaos in today’s leadership arena is unlikely to ever disappear, but good leaders do not let chaos rule over the team’s actions.

Are approachable to not too familiar. As a new leader you will be a bit of a mystery to your new team. At best the team will most likely have had a cursory introduction to you through an organizational announcement giving a brief history of your accomplishments. At times the team will have received no information about you whatsoever. In either case, it is important that you realize that there will likely be a bit of uneasiness amongst team members at getting a new leader. As a new leader you represent uncertainty and change. You must be approachable so that your team may get to know you, your values, your vision and your personal style. The team must be able to communicate their concerns and ideas, and be comfortable in approaching you. However, you must also avoid becoming too familiar with team members so as not to compromise your authority.

Are willing to make tough calls, but keep the team’s (and individual team members’) well being in mind. Being a leader by definition means having to make tough decisions. Accountability for your team’s performance rests with you. As such you must hold your team accountable for their performance. This means enforcing behavioral and performance standards, making tough operational decisions, and taking rational risks. In doing so, good leaders also retain their humanity and take into consideration the impact their decisions have on the team and individual team members. In order to gain and retain your team’s respect and loyalty, you must also show the team that you respect and are loyal to them, even when making those tough decisions.

Are able to secure early wins that make an immediate impact on the team’s performance.As a new leader you must demonstrate your competence and worthiness. While it is unlikely that your actions will make a significant impact on the team’s measurable performance within the first couple of weeks, you should still seek to identify early wins that will bolster your credibility in the short term. Often times these early wins may be related to fixing critical behavioral issues, focusing on obvious process changes, or tackling problems where the solution is already known but has not had real focus. As a new leader you should seek to identify two or three key problems and focus attention on making substantial, and tangible, gains towards resolving them. These key wins will go a long way to earning the credibility you will need to drive larger, more substantial, programs over the long term.

Gaining personal credibility when stepping into a new leadership role is a challenge that typically takes weeks, not days. However, by identifying opportunities for and securing early wins, demonstrating competence and traits that team members will want to emulate, you should be able to gain the credibility that will set you, and your team, up for success within 3-4 weeks.

Photo by Official Navy Page, who has loads of awesome images on Flickr

Comments on this entry are closed.