How to Survive the First 30 Days: A Plan for New Leaders
by Dr. Sara Baker
I believe in the power of leadership. Leadership is not about being perfect or flawless, it's about being passionate and committed to something bigger than you. It's about having an open heart while being courageous enough to take risks that will push you into new territory, so that when you are there, others can follow your lead.
Any time you become a leader of a new group, there are definitive steps that you will want to complete to help establish yourself as a positive leader and begin building relationships with the people on the team so you can get the group moving toward accomplishing the team's goals.
For the sake of this article, I will be referring to a new group as anything that you have started in your role or organization. This could be a team, committee, workgroup or peer support network.
Whatever the case may be, here are some steps that can help make those first 30 days easier and more productive for you and the group.
Note: This article is written for those of you who are new to your role or organization and have a group that may not know you as well as they should at this point in the process. If you already have an established, functioning team, then these steps can still be used to get everyone re-focused on the goals and tasks that are upcoming.
Step 1 - Get to Know Everyone on the Team
Meet individually with each team member and ask them to describe their favorite things about their position, along with a pain point or two.
This is the first of two steps, where you will want to meet one-on-one with each person on the group. You can do this by asking for meetings via email or by setting up a time at their convenience (Assuming they are not too busy). You may find that some people are very chatty, while others are more reserved.
Either way, you will want to spend enough time with each person to learn about them as an individual and gain a better understanding of what they like/dislike or hope to get out of their involvement on the group.
This meeting should also provide you with the opportunity to ask questions that will help guide you in understanding what type of personality this person has.
Will they have a tendency to lead more or follow? Are they an introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between? What is their perception of how leadership should be attained and conveyed within the group?
In addition, do they have any experience with the topic of discussion or task at hand? (If they do, you may be in luck and they will just jump right in.)
Step 2 - Get input on a few goals
It has been my experience that these meetings could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour per person. It will all depend on how you want to schedule them, but each meeting should be "open-ended," meaning that it is not a set agenda for you to push your views or opinions onto the team members. This is more about getting to know one another and what each other needs in order to perform well in the group. You'll use the input you gather to help you frame the your team's short-term goals for the first 30 days.
Step 3 - Check in with Members
The third step is to follow up with the team one week later to see how they are doing and if they have everything that they need from you as a leader. Let them know that your door is open for questions, concerns or just to tell you what's going on with them and how the group is doing.
Step 4 - Make time for a debrief
The fourth step is to hold a 30 minute meeting with all member(s) and discuss what worked, what didn't work and how you can improve upon it during Steps 1-3. You may not need this if everyone feels fine about their progress, but feel free to discuss it anyway.
What to Discuss?
These four steps will help you establish a process for what you will be trying to accomplish in the first 30 days, but what if you aren't sure what to say during those individual or small group meetings?
When I started leading a new team, was to get the team established and moving in the right direction. I wanted people on the team to know that their input mattered, regardless of position or experience level.
In order to achieve that goal, I used the following points as an outline of "must do" reminders for my discussions (only for my reference, not to share with the team) during those initial meetings to help set a positive tone and a collaborative foundation for moving forward.
Weaving your leadership style into your introduction
Introduce yourself by providing a little bit of a background of your professional experiences, along with a little basic information about your personal life (married, single, kids, hobbies, favorite binge-watching show).
Most importantly, you want to focus on how you function as a leader so that they can get a feel for what to expect from you. You'll want them to clearly understand that you view your role as helping them be as successful as possible.
Explain your philosophies on teamwork and accountability, but just enough to let them know that you aren't your average power-tripping boss. You want them to see that you expect results but that you truly believe that leaders are responsible for helping make sure team members have everything they need to be successful.
Creating a Positive "We" Mindset
One of the most important things you can do as a new leader is to demonstrate how easy it can be to work together. The group you are leading needs to understand that they are valued and that their leadership is approachable. But be careful and remember that brevity is key. You don't want to lecture them on how fabulous you are or how humble you are but you do want them to hear directly from you that you believe in teamwork and positive leadership.
It is much easier to set the tone from the beginning by owning up to your goals as a leader and how you intend to support the others on the team. You never know what type of leaders they have had in the past and if you say nothing, then they may simply assume the worst.
During your introduction, also lay out your short-term plan for onboarding, i.e. how you plan to get to know the team and better understand their goals and their needs. This may be through one-on-one meetings or small group meetings. Be ready to schedule these meetings during this introductory meeting (maybe bring a signup sheet with your scheduled availability) and then complete the meetings early in your first 30 days so that your team has less time to wonder.
Authenticity is essential any time you are dealing with people, but especially when meeting a new team. It is imperative that they see you for who you are and that they can feel the truth in your statements.
Don't worry if you aren't a touchy-feely type, because that is absolutely not the intent of being authentic and real.
You aren't joining hands to sing Kum-ba-ya, you are just being your true self with them so that you can begin to build a trusting relationship in which they know that you are honest and forthright.
If you pretend to be someone that you are not, then they will never trust you.
You must know who you are as a leader, what you believe in, what you value, and what actions you implement to help your team be successful.
You may want to take some time before the introduction and put your philosophy verbally on paper. Once you have identified what those core beliefs are, it is much easier for you to communicate in an authentic way. Be yourself and be honest. They want to know who you really are, so it is much better to start off on the right foot.
Listening to the team
Intentionally set aside a dedicated time to meet with each member of the team or smaller groups (if you lead a large team) and applying active listening when you have key input-seeking questions asked of the group. Establish rapport, ask each member to intro him/herself so you know a little about them as individuals (name, position, years with the company, and anything personal they want to share).
Ask them about their current priorities or goals at work. This gives you an opportunity to pick their brain on what they're working on, and in turn, they get to pick yours!
You should also offer to share some of yours in return or bring up topics that you want to discuss as a group.
Ask about positives
What do you most enjoy about your job, your team, or working for this company?
What are some examples of team successes you have experienced in the past six months or the past year?
Be careful with this question, if you were hired to replace a terrible leader who was hated by everyone on the team, don’t spend too much time here if the team is struggling to provide any examples of successes or if negativity begins pouring out. You could stretch the time frame of the question out to two years if you know the bad experiences mostly occurred recently and you expect that reaching farther into their history could remind them of goals they have achieved.
Or you could ask a broader question, such as “what was a career success or personal success you experienced?” – the point is to get positive feelings flowing from the team on which you can then build your conversation.
Ask about pain points
Keep the conversation steered away from blaming individuals, so it is good to set some ground rules such as “I loved hearing about the successes you have experienced, now what are some of the issues that you think could be improved and then you would enjoy your job more and be able to accomplish more?”
You are much more likely to get honest answers if you keep the questions focused on improving conditions and working together for team success, than if you try to point fingers and place blame. Plus, any time a person takes responsibility they are more likely to be committed to making it better in the future.
What do you feel is getting in the way of what you want to accomplish?
What is it that can be done differently from a team and individual perspective that would make your day go easier?
It is a good idea to ask, “What are some of the areas that you feel I should focus on?” or “How can we work together most effectively for you to achieve greater success in this role?”
You will likely receive answers focused on process areas - such as, “it would be great if we could have more time to discuss issues” – or team members - “we need better communication from Jane regarding our progress.” These are good examples of the kinds of specific suggestions you want to ask for and then be sure to address these types of items in your first 30 days.
Sometimes these are little issues that make sense for you to help correct quickly, sometimes you will want to focus on coaching and empowering the individuals to find solutions on their own, and sometimes the issues are significant and will take time for you and the team to solve together. Take notes and be ready to review and incorporate this feedback into your short- and long-term goals for your team.
Don't let yourself be surprised if you meet resistance or a disgruntled person during these introductory conversations. You will need to be ready with cool responses in order to handle resistant personalities during these initial conversations.
If someone is grumpy and says they don’t have any successes, you can try to coax out an answer, but you can also let it go, smile, and say, “alright, I’ll give you a pass this time, but I bet you’ve had some successes” and move on to the next person.
If someone is extremely rude and says they aren’t interested in playing your game, or something excessively tacky such as that, it is better to stay calm, be positive but very forthrightly respond so as not to allow the resistor to be emboldened.
You must show no fear of the verbal attack. You might say something like, “I understand if you do not want to participate, but these questions are designed for me to get to know each of you and the team as a whole so that I can better understand what is important to you as we look to the future.”
And just move on to the next person. It is also helpful to make a lighthearted joke or pun to help ease the tension created by the naysayer.
Don’t solve all their problems
It is a rookie mistake to rush in and try to solve all the problems yourself.
You definitely will want to see if any of the pain points the team shared are low-hanging fruit that you can easily address and rectify, but you want to remember that you are working to build a collaborative environment with self-motivated, high-performing people.
Some of their pain points might be things they can correct themselves with support and coaching from you.
Whereas, rushing in to fix all of their issues creates a situation where they rely on you for everything instead of growing in their roles and becoming more empowered.
Set short-term goals
Now it's time to begin setting your short-term goals for your 30 day plan. Where do you want your team to be at the end of 30 days? What should they achieve during that time? How can you help them get there?
Keep these goals realistic but challenging - something you know they can achieve but will need some help with.Review your notes and look for trends of issues that arose throughout your conversations. Separate their concerns into process-related, materials and equipment-related and people-related. Then set short-term and long-term goals for yourself that will help address their concern, ie. coaching the team on how to communicate with difficult teammates, while still supporting them in their individual growth and development. Make sure your goals relate to the larger organizational goals and will help you and your team be successful.
Make the first 30 days count
As a new leader, you have to set the right tone when you meet your team. You want them to feel welcome and excited about working with you. One of the best ways is by making time for one-on-one conversations with each employee in their area or department. Build relationships through these meetings so that they know who they can come talk to if they need anything from you. It’s also important that any feedback should be taken seriously and given careful consideration rather than brushed off as an annoyance– even if it seems negative at first glance! Be authentic while still maintaining boundaries and don’t forget to ask questions too! If someone comes up with a great idea, make sure not only to use it but give credit to the individual.