Advice for new leaders: Slow Down

There will be plenty of time to assert your authority, after you keep quiet and listen.

Joe Scarlett has some suggestions for CEOs and store managers.

Whether you’ve finally secured your dream CEO job or are just starting out in a junior-level leadership role, I advise you to take a deep breath before diving in. Most of us want to jump into our new role with both feet to show that we can get the job done as well or better than our predecessor. However, just the opposite approach might take you further. Slow down, because in the long run a measured approach could yield substantially better results for you and your organization.

If you assert yourself right away, setting direction and barking orders, you lose the opportunity to learn fully about your operation and your people. And without this basic knowledge you could easily stumble, maybe badly, due to a lack of ground-floor awareness. Here are some more tips for moving graciously into a new leadership role:

Be with the people. Remember, in most businesses those closest to the work know the most about it, so consider that your starting point. Spend time building a bond with people on the frontlines. This will pay off later in more ways than you can imagine. For example, in manufacturing, your mission is to walk the factory floor; in a sales role, go on calls with some of your people; and in retail, spend time in your stores and distribution centers. You get the idea.

Keep quiet and listen. During this initial learning period just observe, watch and pay attention—not everything is as it appears. Learn about the operations, challenges, problems and recent events. Then ask good questions about what you don’t know. Likewise, get to know your people both professionally and personally. At this point you should begin to feel more comfortable with your team and they with you.

Learn all you can. Study all the facets of your new role: the history of your predecessors, culture of your company and your new business unit, and anything else that might help you better grasp the inner workings of your new position. This also includes reviewing the performance measures that you’re expected to hit and counseling with the financial person who directly monitors your operation.

Start probing. After a reasonable time observing, you can start asking more substantial, in-depth questions that will help you do your job better. What are the big issues in the operation? If you were me what are the top three issues I should look into? How do you feel about the company overall? What do you see for yourself in the future?

If you follow this sequence of events roughly during your first few weeks in a new role, you should begin earning the respect of the workforce that you’ll need for the future. So slow down long enough to get a solid understanding of the business and the people working for you, and ideally your team will rally around you—maybe even prevent you from making a mistake or two.

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company. For more on leadership, see joescarlett.com.

 

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