Congratulations, Newbie! You have just landed a corner office in a company. While you’ve been given your ID badge, nobody handed you the keys to leadership. You must earn them. There is an army of employees whom you have to convince to follow you. Mastery of these “6 C’s” will go a long way to get the buy-in you seek.
Kevin Cashman of KornFerry’s CEO & Executive Development group defines leadership as authentic self-expression that adds value. At the heart of leadership, then, is how you communicate with people.
Talk to people and let them understand what you are trying to do. I worked with a CEO of a regional bank who enacted dozens of changes – closing kiosks in grocery stores, developing mobile aps and branches without tellers, etc. He got increasingly frustrated as people picked which initiatives to embrace and which to ignore. The employees didn’t make a connection between the initiatives, and they thought they could hold their breath until the next initiative was introduced. Had the CEO explained the Big Idea that banking convenience was changing, and that the organization had to adjust to new realities, he may have had a more willing team. Instead, every few weeks a new initiative was announced, and another decision would be made to get on board or not.
Talking is only part of the necessary communications skills. You have to listen, too. People need to feel heard. Their suggestions may not see the light of day; that is your prerogative. But having your team feel like their opinions were considered in decision-making will help you get them to support the actions you take.
Here’s a secret we can keep among ourselves: When you join a new company, you don’t know how to get anything done there. You’ll likely find that what led to success in your last job won’t work in the new environment. Maybe you’ll invest time to learn how things work. Maybe you won’t bother, relying instead on directing the people who do know how to get things done.
Employees will cut you some slack on your ignorance of process, if you can compensate by demonstrating your competence in other areas that matter to them. Use your functional expertise to coach others. Use your management skills to achieve goals through other people.
When people recognize your competence, they are likely to begin to feel confident about you. But it helps when you show a strong belief that you and the organization can accomplish what you set out to do. If you exude self-doubt, you’re in trouble.
My first Vice President role came when I moved to a new company in a new country. My brief was to fix the company’s flagship brand, Smirnoff, which had been declining by more than 10%. My fear of failure was low, because I didn’t think things could get much worse. If only I had been more self-aware, maybe I would have worried more! I tried hard to temper my self-confidence by not appearing arrogant, a common pitfall for Americans with a Canadian audience. I'll let former colleagues chime in on whether or not I succeeded.
For many of us, self-confidence comes easily. Confidence in our team is another matter, especially before they have proven their mettle. A good strategy is to consider the Russian proverb often used by Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” Provide signs that you are giving your people breathing space while you get up to speed on their performance and capabilities.
Show your team that you mean what you say and that you are willing to follow up on your promises. In the early days, everybody is trying to assess whether or not they can believe you. Your promise is a verbal contract not to be taken lightly. A promise that you deliver engenders trust and loyalty. A broken promise can put you in a deep hole.
Michael Watkins, in The First 90 Days, stresses “quick wins.” Those wins are seldom important on their own. But tactically, they say, “See, I told you we could do this!” Maybe more important than a quick win is its converse, avoiding the obligation that cannot be fulfilled. Be careful about publicly announcing objectives that are unrealistic, that you don’t have the resources to achieve or that are dependent on other people you can’t control.
The people in your company have chosen to be there for longer than you have been. They are looking for signs that you are “all in,” that you will be there for the long run. Imagine that you commute from another time zone, spending four days a week at HQ, with no indication that your family will join you. What message are you sending? How permanent a decision have you made?
If you choose a long-term commuting arrangement, consider ways to become involved in your organization’s community while you are there. As a leader, you are expected to contribute to activities outside of work. Without week night family commitments, there should be ample time to get involved.
You have to count on other people in order to succeed, and so do your people. Show them the value you place on the broader organization’s resources by visibly working closely with colleagues and by encouraging collaboration from your team.
Your willingness to work and play well with others will get noticed. It signals your recognition that you can’t solve problems by yourself and that you are a team player. It helps build strategic alliances within the organization. And it opens up the opportunity for reciprocation that can be critical for your team's success.
What other C’s (or keys) for success should new executives consider?
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.