How to Begin a New Leadership Assignment

“I’ve just been asked to lead a newly-formed division of our company,” a manager said to me, “and I’m unsure about what leadership style is best.”

“Do you know the performance history of the people that will be on your team?” I asked.

“Not really.  Most will be new people.”

“I suggest that you start by explaining your expectations—performance objectives, metrics, policy compliance—and identify two or three cultural themes (cooperation, teamwork, customer focus, for example) that you value.  Encourage team members to offer feedback.  Should a suggestion represent an improvement, accept it immediately.  If you disagree with a suggestion, tell why.”

When performance of a team is unknown, I think a leader who begins with very clear expectations and guidelines is more likely to get the team’s motor running.

As the weeks go by, the leader will quickly learn which members are the better performers.  Likewise, marginal producers will reveal themselves.  The leader should provide much support and more freedom to top performers.

For marginal producers, the leader can reduce freedom by focusing on performance tracking, process compliance and specific coaching.

On any team, effective leaders treat members differently because members behave differently.


When Placed in Command, Take Charge

Ellis, a newly-appointed supervisor joked to his group, “Well, I guess they couldn’t find anyone else to take the job.  I’ve worked alongside you for three years.  You know what to do.”

In another division, Janice was also promoted from her group to be the supervisor.  On her first day, she held a meeting and laid out her expectations.

“My top priorities are: (1) we meet our quality metric 100% of the time, (2) meet 98% of all deadlines, (2) improve customer satisfaction scores by 15%, and comply with all attendance and safety policies.”

Performance in Ellis’ group actually declined.  One employee said, “Some just waited to be told what to do; others more or less plodded along with half-hearted efforts.”

By contrast, one of Janice’s employees reported.  “We all knew what she expected and we stayed focused.  Both performance and morale soared.”

As the late General Schwarzkopf said, “When placed in command, take charge.”

This does not mean that you know everything, refuse to listen, rule by fear or turn into a dictator.  It does mean that you should have a plan, be clear, stay humble, listen and act like a leader—a good one.