University News

Leadership: New on the Job? Go Slow to Go Fast

by Dr. Steve Gladis, CWB Senior Scholar

As a leader starting a new job at a company, you’ll often hear executives and hiring managers tell you to hit the ground running with your goals to shake up the organization you’re working for now. Often their complaint is that the organization has gotten stale and complacent. Putting pressure on you to set it all right in your first 90 days is pure and utter nonsense. They know it and you know it.

Even though that’s bad advice, it’s coming from people in leadership positions, so you take it. Then in about 6 to 12 months, the culture rejects you like a bad virus. And what’s worse is the same people who told you to shake things up are now admonishing you for doing just that. No kidding – unfortunately, this happens with such regularity in companies I have coached that it’s a cliché.

So, what should you do?

First, in the employment interview or during your first on-the-job discussion with your boss, smile and wave at whatever he or she says. But don’t do it! Instead, make it your job to go slow to go fast. It’s a lot like running a marathon. If you start out slow and steady, you’ll find your pace and eventually do a lot better than if you take off like a jackrabbit. Here are some simple but effective steps to go slow now in order to go fast later:

  • Smile, breathe, and listen. First, smiling says, “I’m not a threat.” The last thing you want to be is a threat; that creates big problems. Next, breathe—in and out slowly and methodically, to reboot your emotions. There’s a lot of science here. Finally, use the 80/20 conversation rule. Spend 80 percent of your time listening and only 20 percent responding. Good listening is not simply waiting for your chance to make a point! It requires focusing on what people are saying and trying to understand their perspectives.
  • Ask an HR representative and/or an executive coach to conduct an assimilation meeting. This just involves meeting with your entire team to answer any questions they might have about you. Here, you can share your leadership style, your pet peeves, your family, your hobbies, and even some highlights of your values and vision (but be low key when communicating that). This meeting gives everyone a chance to connect with you personally and understand some basics about you. That can save a year’s worth of hit-or-miss encounters. If you’re with a small company, have all your direct reports make a list of questions that they want you to answer. Ask one person to compile them to keep the process anonymous, and then give you the list before the meeting to think about your answers. Don’t skip any hard ones if they come up frequently; otherwise, people will think you sidestep tough stuff. Aim to be bold and honest to set a good first impression.
  • Meet each one of your direct reports individually. Spend an hour or more with every person who works with you. Ask them about themselves, the work they most enjoy doing, what’s working in the group, what needs some attention, and anything that would help them reach their professional and personal goals. Don’t make any promises about the information you receive; simply focus on understanding what’s important to each of your colleagues. Also, be sure not to disparage the leader who preceded you on the job. That doesn’t ever play well, even though it might seem easy and beneficial to you at the time.
  • Meet each one of your peers individually. Again, ask a lot of questions and seek the advice of every colleague. Find out what’s good about your new team, and what needs work. Ask your peers if they will help you understand the culture. Listen more than you talk.

Going slow at the very beginning of your tenure in a new job is critical to your success and the corporation’s success. It will feel counter to your anxious inner voice telling you to, “Just do it.” But don’t just do it until you know what, how and when to do it! Cultures have to accept you before they accept your opinion.

I explain it this way to my clients: A young man brings home his girlfriend—who is a top interior designer in New York City—to meet his parents. While his parents are out of the room getting dinner and wine ready for the meal, the girlfriend/designer begins to rearrange the living room to make it even more beautiful. Despite how good it now looks since she jumped in fast to share her expertise, ponder for a moment how those parents might react!

Go slow, to go fast later, once you’re in accepted into the tribe.