At the Beginning of Leadership

SS Pride with crew

SS Pride with crew

As a leader you might end up in situations that require immediate action or a crossroad suddenly appears in front of you. A decision is to be made. I have read a lot of leadership biographies lately where one thing stands out as a common skill for success, the ability to take on new challenges. In most of these examples a leader will be asked to do a new job within the company because of a job well down somewhere else the latest years. This means that the leader need to step away from success and move into unknown territory. I am going to focus on what to do when you find yourself at the beginning of your journey as a leader.

A text in italic, like this one will appear during this article, this is where I share my own experience during the last week, as I have just taken over another department at work. I am going to share my very first week with you.

This article is meant for anybody that is about to kick of a new leadership career, either as a brand new leader, or maybe you are just getting a new challenge and new people.

At the Beginning of a Journey

Spend the first two days just to observe. The more anonymous you can be the better, but people will be suspicious and talk about what you are doing there. If they ask, you are observing. What are you looking for? Write down what seems to be broken, and write down what seems to work smoothly.

I spent two days just sitting in the corner of the room, looking at them walking in the door in the morning, looking at them leaving in the evening. I noticed that they did not seem to enjoy being there in the first place. The room is quiet and they seem to be bored. There are two groups here, even if this is supposed to be one team. A lot of people are late, and some leave early.

The Lookouts Tasks

As a lookout on a ship, your role is to spot potential danger or positive objectives. You are here to observe with a reason. You are looking for icebergs, hope for land, bounty hunters, pirates or whatever may influence your journey. You must spend these days effectively to the upcoming recruitment event. You must plan how you can get everybody on the ship that is ready to sail.

I need to get some of these people on my side right away, I should talk to a few key people and let them in on my thoughts. These people are intelligent and I cannot be their mentor to their knowledge, this is not why I was selected for this mission. Some seem to be stuck in a world of their own, not acknowledging that this is one team. I really want to know how happy they are at work, I need to ask as many as possible about this, just to get a value between 1 and 10.

Planning Recruitment

The ship is ready to sail, I got what I need for this long journey, but my crew is still shattered all over the place. I need to get them together and motivate them.

You must plan a meeting for everybody to attend. This is where you are going to sell your mission and get everybody to join your cause. This meeting must be soon, and at this meeting you must get them to know the rules. What are you going to do? They fear change and need to know. Tell them what you like, and what you do not like. What is an acceptable behavior according to you? Do not say that this is how it is going to be, tell them that this is stuff you like or dislike, so if they want to they know how to act around you, they will learn. If they know what you look for in someone willing to do a great job, they will act that way. They will understand what it takes, as long as they know what it takes.

I am going to draw a boat on the whiteboard, and I am going to provide them with a magnet with their name on. At the end of the meeting I will say that this is it, either you are onboard with me, or you can walk out of the room right now, and never come back. (Warning: This can be suicide). I have found our destination and we must first set sail for Happyland. The average happiness rating here is 6.8. The average score at the department I just left is 9.7 out of 10. Our first goal should be 8.5

Engaging Empowerment

You should be humble to your task, as a fresh leader chances are that you have no idea on how you are going to accomplish a lot of things. In the people around you there are hundreds of ideas waiting to be told. You need to get them involved in the journey. Columbus did not row to America by himself. He needed someone for a lot of different task. He needed a team. You must find the people that have experience and let them know that you will listen to them.

I have decided that I do not need a team leader or a mini me here. I will find 4 people in this crowd that shall be like a company board. I need them to find the challenges and the solutions with me. I will tell them this on the meeting, and I must pick my advisors wisely. We should already have the first advisors meeting early next week. The knowledge is within them, and I need them to realize how much power they have.

Define the Rules of the Game

Before making a rule, know this: A rule is a rule, breaking the rules have consequences. To play by rules, everybody needs to know the rules, and what will happen if the rules are violated. Do not make a rule if you are not willing to face the consequences yourself. If your best employee keeps breaking a rule, are you willing to lose her? It is not advisable to make it a rule, if no is the answer to this. A rule shall have consequences if broken.

I noticed that they are often late, and it creates too much irritation within the group members already in place. I feel this is a serious problem here. I have fired people for being late before, and I am not afraid to do it here either. Being late on this floor must have consequences; I will make this a rule to follow.

Get Some Routines in Place

You should as a leader talk and listen a lot. Employees want evaluation, and the power of a frequent follow up session is of great value. Before talking much with them call them in for a regular one hour meeting at least once a month. The first meeting will take up to one hour, but later on it will take about 20 minutes. I cannot say this too often: If you do not have these meetings, you should right now, book them into such a meeting! This is the shortcut so success in people management!

I talked to them, and found out that a lot of them have a lot to say. I need to schedule meeting with all of them before the group meeting. I sat down and made a regular meeting once a month with all of them. These meetings are very important to me, and I must let them know that these meeting will not be postponed.

All Aboard, Let us Set Sail

The meeting will be a meeting where you talk. There is not much room for discussion. If you know that some people will try to establish a negative conversation, talk to them one on one before the meeting. Tell them about yourself, visualize the journey and try to (You will need to) convince them that this is something they want.

I must set up the session first. I have drawn the boat. I will draw a compass pointing to efficiency and happiness. I will write down a few values that are necessary to get there, like respect and pride. I will even name the boat SS Pride.

Teambuilding Event – Lets Have Fun

You should always have a positive surprise in your sleeve. A teambuilding event is always a good thing. You should not plan it. Ask who are willing to have one, and find 2-4 people willing to arrange it, as you will have enough things to do anyway. Give them a budget and be surprised. I was lucky to have these funds ready when accepting my new challenge. But if there is no room for it in the budget, ask for some funds for fun before you accept such a task. It is so important to have fun fast.

I asked them who was willing to arrange a teambuilding event. I got enough volunteers within ten minutes and I will let them do this. I will get them to hold a meeting early next week to get this going fast. I will also let everyone know at the meeting that this is going to happen soon.

The final Meeting

I called in a meeting with my new crew on Friday last week at 1:30 p.m. I talked about what I wanted to achieve. That I wanted more fun at work, I was honest about what was not working today. I was honest to say that I need help. I told them about what I like, and what I do not like. I told them about the regular one on one meeting and gave them a copy of the evaluation form that I use. I told them that this was the place everybody wanted to work before, and now everybody wants to leave. We need to change that and get pride back into our job. I told them about what I have seen so far both challenges and strengths. I told them about my little survey result of 6.8 out of 10 job satisfaction. I made it a short term goal to establish it at 8.5 out of 10. I told them about the upcoming teambuilding event. I told them about the consequence of being late to work. I told them about Respect as a value, and that means arriving on time. I demand that they work together to solve the problems. I told them that no job role is safe, and that protecting their own old work routines might be a career suicide. I told them about my plan to include four people on a board, and that we will evaluate everything. And at the end of the meeting I told those that wanted to join me in my journey to find their nametag and magnet, and to place it on the boat. This was a time for decision, either you are on the boat, or you should leave now, never to return. Everybody decided to join SS Pride for its journey…

I was so happy to see the first person standing up and placing his magnet in the lookout, and the rest following fast. I could even see that some felt a pride in placing the magnet on the boat. I almost wanted to cry. I finished the meeting right after the last magnet was stuck. After the meeting I walked around the office shaking their hands and thanking them for joining with all my heart, this meant so much to me, and they should know it. I could feel the strong will of change in the room. At 4:15 p.m. a lot of people are still working. This room was empty 15 minutes after work the two earlier days. I talked to one employee that said he was looking forward to Monday.

In Conclusion

As a new leader, you must Plan, create a Vision, Empower the people, Have Fun, Set Rules, Include and talk to them. They are all grownups, and you should allow them to act like grownups but to play as kids. As a new leader you must act fast, define the game, the rules and the consequences. If you play Monopoly with a bunch of friends, you need to take out the board, set the stage for the game, divide pieces and money, and make sure that everybody knows the rules of the game. If you decide to play a new game and just sit down at the table chances are you will fail.

More from my site

  • Employee Engagement and RelationshipsEmployee Engagement and Relationships I have been reading about Employee Engagement lately, like this post; What, Really, Is Employee Engagement? From Steve Roesler at This post is great because it […]
  • How do I become a leader? How do I become a leader? I was just asked a simple question; how do I become a leader? The answer on the other hand is not easy. But I will try to provide some useful hints to aspiring leaders out there, with this […]
  • How to Become a Leader for DummiesHow to Become a Leader for Dummies "I want to be a leader" - Have you ever thought that it would be cool to be the boss? Is a leadership career tempting? Do you wonder what it takes to become a leader? I meet people that […]
  • Pointing fingers? Pointing fingers? Imagine getting in trouble at work. Imagine that your project failed or imagine that someone is always opposing you. Are you pointing fingers? Will that solve anything for you? Think about […]

2 Comments on "At the Beginning of Leadership"

  1. Frode Heimen | April 27, 2009 at 3:38 pm |

    Hi Lori.
    This is a good question that is not easy to answer. I have a strong focus on results. The fun should not interfere with the results, cause than it is not fun anymore. Having fun at work is more than just fooling around and playing. Making tasks into games, creating “guess the overall result” competitions, appreciations of co-workers and having a positive mindset is also a part of having fun at work. Working with goals is also fun when it is a competition. But we also have high focus on quality with sessions about how to get good quality. Empowerment is also a key, allowing employees to run projects. I had a few employees to create different reports on how to decrease traffic to the call centre. They all had a lot of fun making useful results that may help achieving our goals. And once in a while you should just play games like Nintendo Wii or RC car racing. Fun at work is not necessary just play and games, but also making the work itself fun to do. It is more fun to deliver a great performance if this results in positive feedback from co-workers and management. This is just a short intro to my philosophy about this, and I think I need to write a post about this to fully answer your question. Thanks for reading.

    To Zena, thanks for your twit 🙂

  2. Lori Rousseau | April 26, 2009 at 11:54 pm |

    How do you balance expressing the desire to have fun in the workplace (to have a happy, productive environment) with the expectation that the work done in the office is of the highest quality? Do you ever run into employees who think “oh, this is going to be a vacation cruise and all I will be doing is having fun”?

    Just started following you and it’s very interesting-

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Zena Contreras
  2. Twitted by nomorelayoffs

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


CommentLuv badge