Think back to your first entry-level job. What was your first week in the office like? Undoubtedly, there was some training involved. Even right out of college, companies will opt to spend time and resources training their employees. Every new team member is both a risk and an investment, and it’s necessary for proper preparation before launching into any new job.
It’s a pretty obvious conclusion, but in the workplace, new employees are held in lower regard due to their lack of experience.
Now, the difficulty comes when a high level executive—say a CEO—is hired into a company. Though they face the same challenges of acclimation as any entry-level employee, they are expected to adapt quickly and act as a major influencer in the company immediately after they start the job. This puts a newly hired leader into a tricky position. While they are expected to lead and situated firmly on top of the figurative totem pole, they also lack the innate influence that would be possessed by anybody being hired internally into the position.Therefore, any new leader will need the expertise to earn the respect of their team members as soon as possible.
And, in a bad situation, a new CEO that isn’t respected can hurt productivity across a company. A disconnect between two distinctive leadership styles can stall or even derail a company’s mission. Given a general aversion to change, it’s difficult for any new leader to come into a company with universal acclaim. For new leaders, earning the trust of a team is a necessary first step to moving forward and making a difference in a company.
It can be tempting for a new leader to immediately start working and try to avoid the pitfalls of transitional downtime. In this rush to fill the void, introductions and communication often fall by the wayside. The first step to gaining the trust of employees is to open clear and accessible lines of communication. Give team members a platform to talk about things that are bothering them, and take the time to get acquainted and establish yourself as a familiar face around the office. Regular staff meetings are one of the best ways to do this; consider them opportunities to brainstorm, discuss projects, and voice concerns.
One of the first things that you should make apparent to them is that you’re still learning. Be humble about your new job, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from team members that may be more familiar with company procedure. This also gives you the chance to gain the trust of major influencers within a company, whose endorsement may be key to winning the hearts of other employees. Don’t play dumb, but know the limits of your knowledge.
Of course, this also means that it will be necessary to limit the changes you make at first. Most companies do not have a plan in place for transitioning between leaders. Rely on the networks you build to help you find your footing and build up to the regular pace of leadership. It may be tempting to jump right in—but immediately making sweeping changes will cause more problems than it will solve.
Plus, there’s office culture to consider. Make your image match that of the company; adapting your brand to fit your new environment is necessary, and a leader that thinks that they can bend the unspoken rules of culture sticks out in a bad way. Start with your wardrobe and work your way out, paying attention to the common dress patterns of other high-level leaders in the company. It can make a big difference in how you are perceived.
Starting at a company in a leadership position is, in many ways, a lonely and awkward situation. You’re leading without the camaraderie of having a previous relationship with your team members. Let go of any pretension regarding your ability and know that you will make mistakes—and that good communication can help get past this stage and excel in a new position.