It’s never easy being the new guy or gal. Especially when you have to take over leadership of an already established team of employees.
You may be worried that your new team has preconceived opinions about you. And that they aren’t all positive.
So how do you break the ice? How do you gain the respect and trust you need to be an effective leader?
Start here. Follow this five-step process to build a strong foundation.
Step 1: Make a calculated entrance
As the new leader you must maintain a careful balance between learning and teaching, listening and telling. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but you do want your employees to know you know your stuff.
Essentially, you need to build respect and establish credibility. At the same time.
Start by learning all the current processes and functions that are essential to the business. Don’t come in with a list of universal fixes. Changes or updates should be based on specific business needs.
Meet with employees one-on-one and ask for their feedback. This shows everyone that you respect the people and procedures already in place.
In addition, this allows you to get to know your people and learn about the company. It also allows your people to get to know you. That’s where you start establishing credibility. Your employees want to know that you have the skills and experience required to lead.
Openly share your background. Tell your employees about your talents, career history and your initial thoughts on the business, while encouraging them to add their input.
Try not to pass judgement during the initial transition into your leadership role. It can cause your new team to take offense and be less receptive to your ideas and authority.
Step 2: Build trust
Building mutual trust between you and your people begins on day one.
Do it right, and you’ll lay the foundation for obtaining employee buy-in when implementing future company initiatives. Do it wrong, and you might ruin any chances for success.
First of all, the very term “mutual,” implies the presence of two parties in the building of trust – you and your employees. That means both sides must show that they trust the other in order to receive trust in return.
Open up to your people in conversation and demeanor.
Ask them: What do you do in your leisure time? How big is your family? What are your hobbies? Sharing personal information about yourself first may help your people feel more comfortable opening up to you.
Another idea is to have lunch out with each employee. This allows you to talk to them outside of the office environment. It shows them that you want to get to know them on a personal level, not just as a worker. You may discover commonalities that strengthen your relationship and ability to relate to one another.
But there’s one critical truth that you must keep in mind: While solid mutual trust is built over time, it only takes a single miscalculated act to destroy it.
When you come into a new company, you won’t be fully aware of long-standing office politics, loyalties or rivalries between employees and departments.
In emotionally charged situations, neutrality is your best course of action as a new leader.
You must not play favorites with any members of the staff. Gossiping about other employees or departments will quickly taint your reputation. Squash rumors by maintaining open communication and allowing employees to ask questions. Any implications of “secret alliances” and “hidden agendas” can slowly erode mutual trust.
In a leadership role, you will always have access to sensitive information. It’s up to you to decide which details to keep close to your chest and which to disclose.
Make sure you choose wisely when, where, how and to whom sensitive information gets shared. A poor choice can negate any progress you’ve made establishing mutual trust.
Step 3: Make changes and get buy in
As you learn more about your people and new company from your initial meetings and discussions, you’ll slowly recognize when and where changes and updates are needed.
If you have your employees’ respect and you’ve established credibility, offering up ideas for improvements should be a smooth process.
But don’t test the strength of the bonds you’ve built by “laying down the law.” Keep your mutual trust-building methods in mind and offer up fresh ideas for group discussion.
What are the risks involved with the changes you’re proposing? Are there any potential obstacles?
Discuss these questions with your employees. Encourage and validate employee feedback. Your employees have been with the company longer than you have. They may be able to point out causes for concern or easier avenues to achievement that you’re not aware of.
In any case, your people will appreciate being part of the decision process. And they’ll be more willing to embrace the changes.
There will be times when you and your employees won’t agree. They may feel that you don’t understand the business well enough to make the right decisions.
Handle these situations by providing logical, factual, business-based reasons for why you want to implement change. By removing emotion and territorial feelings, conclusions can be based on fact, not favoritism or status.
One way to soften hard feelings is to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your people. Nothing speaks louder than a leader lending a hand to put his or her idea into action.
Once decisions have been made, give your employees the opportunity to try new things and challenge themselves. This shows that you trust their skills and judgement, which will further develop the trust they show you. Most importantly, offer them your support by being available for questions or guidance.
Step 4: Address mistakes and develop solutions
As a new leader, the road to implementing business changes is not without its bumps and ruts.
When you experience failure, be open about it, and invite your employees in to find solutions together. Yes, your employees will see you fail. But seeing you pick yourself up, admit to your mistakes and keep working on a solution will gain you respect.
As a new leader, tread softly when employees make mistakes. Before taking action remember, you haven’t established your authority with them yet.
Don’t come to the table criticizing. Harsh public actions can offend employees and cause them to vent to colleagues, which could give the whole team the wrong impression of you. Instead, arrange for one-on-one meetings with employees who make mistakes to better understand the issues from their perspectives.
Talk on neutral terms and focus on the issue, not the individual. Ask questions, but let the employees direct the conversation. Once the facts are on the table, get their opinions on how to fix the problem and avoid future error. Ownership of the solution ensures the employees understand their mistakes. They will be more motivated to put their plan into action.
Address the mistake to the rest of your employees on an as-needed basis. Being secretive only sparks rumors that corrode trust and employee loyalty over time. Be sure to keep all conversations focused on solutions, not on blame.
When mistakes are department-based, keep discussions contained there. If they affect the entire business, hold an open forum with all employees. Make it clear that you’re available to answer questions or address concerns in private, if needed.
Step 5: Maintain what you’ve built
Mutual trust, respect and credibility are all values that must be nurtured to remain intact.
Encourage ongoing employee feedback and discussions around growth opportunities for your people and business. Celebrate achievements, address mistakes and work together to find solutions.
Demonstrate your appreciation to your employees by giving them special perks or organizing fun events. And be sure to meet with them one-on-one when they need extra guidance.
Leading a company is not always easy. But when you lay the foundation for a strong team effort at the get-go, it’s a job you’ll never have to do alone.
Looking for additional ideas on how to build lasting relationships with your employees as a new leader? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management, Issue 2, today.