How to be successful in your first 100 days as a new leader

Written by
Changeboard Team

13 May 2011

13 May 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Emotional intelligence

Newly-appointed leaders often fail to address a key aspect of their role in the first 100 days. That is making the difficult decisions around who and what really matters to the organisation.

In our work at First100, we often have to emphasise to new leaders that they need to start assessing the value of each member of their team and each process carried out. After a month in the role, the leader should have a fair idea about who is working out in terms of personnel, and what is working in terms of process.

This requires highly attuned emotional intelligence, as the leader needs to be able to discern what is really happening below the surface. Without the ability to read their organisation, a leader cannot hope to marshal their resources effectively.

We recently worked with a HR director who moved from the private to the public sector. It was necessary to really challenge this individual about what really matters in her organisation.

Asking tough questions

The first thing we asked her related to the power bases in her unit – had she got to grips with both the overt and covert power structures? It was necessary to make her aware that informal networks of power can hold sway, particularly in a public sector environment.

The following question pertained to the power brokers - who are the key influencers in this organisation? Without knowing this, her own authority could well be undermined.

Quite often, some of the most powerful people in an organisation are personal assistants. The trick is to look beyond formal titles, and observe the nature of internal relationships without preconceptions based on rank.

While it may be necessary to actively engage in ‘doing things’, it is impossible to achieve real success early on in a role without reflecting extensively on the nature of relationships between key stakeholders.

Who stays and who goes

At a global ICT firm, we worked in a 1-1 capacity with a new customer service director. In creating a 100 day plan for him, we stressed that around day 60 is the point at which final decisions on personnel should be made.

After two months in a role, a leader should have a well-developed sense of who is contributing effectively, and who is not.

The customer service director was encouraged to consider what he would like to achieve in two years’ time, and whether his team in its current form could get him there. If certain individuals are not on board with the leader’s vision, they need to be moved on.

It takes strength and honesty to assess who is not a ‘net contributor’ in a team of direct reports. While nobody likes to let people go, avoiding the issues is hardly helpful. These tough personnel decisions have to be made, and it is always easier to make these early on and set the tone for the rest of a leadership appointment.

Unfortunately, we are no longer surprised when we observe that ‘non-contributors’ are still in place not just after 100 days, but even twelve months later. Leaders should be encouraged to trust their instincts on the people around them, particularly their own direct reports.

Feedback it is better to know

The adage about feedback goes: no one really wants to give it and no one really wants to receive it. We tend to disagree, and believe that it is always better to know. A key aspect of strong leadership is learning quickly from mistakes, and capitalising effectively on early feedback.

We stress the importance of gathering the views of peers, line managers and direct reports. This should be done independently where possible, and even the most painful aspect of feedback should be taken on board and viewed as an opportunity to improve leadership performance with some hard evidence.

This 360 degree feedback should be supplemented with an intense period of personal reflection, containing an honest appraisal of early successes as well as mistakes. This should attend to any blind spots around your performance.

Through careful consideration and honest engagement, the leader should know who and what really matters to their role, and indeed the wider organisation. Without this knowledge, the chances of a successful leadership appointment are greatly reduced.

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