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Three Things You Must Do Immediately As a New Leader

You have 30 days to show your team what you’ve got

Credit: Milkos/Getty Images

II often tell my executive-coaching clients that the first 30 days in a new role are the most critical. That’s the amount of time you have to show your team, your manager, and your colleagues what you’ve got as a leader.

Unfortunately, those first 30 days are already overwhelming. Your calendar is packed with meetings with all of your stakeholders — up, down, across, and all around you. You want to spend more time with your team, but you’re being pulled into strategy sessions with your manager and the executives. Everything shared with you is framed as needing urgent attention, and you may not yet know which tasks are truly critical and which ones can wait a couple of weeks to address. You’re excited about this new gig, but the pace is ruthless. You spend Saturday catching up on some sleep, then get back to it on Sunday morning.

Having worked with hundreds of new leaders in my career, I’ve seen this scenario again and again. Newly promoted leaders experience the pressure, too, even if they have been part of the company for many years. Some anxiety is an inevitable part of every new transition. But I’ve found there are strategies to help you move through the “new leader stage” so that you establish yourself as impactful from the get-go. Here’s what the most successful do to make the most of those first 30 days.

They “pace and space”

New leaders don’t try to get it all done in the first two weeks. They know that achieving important priorities will take time. They respond to the most urgent needs while also carving out time for the longer-term strategy. They give themselves space in their days. They consciously work to avoid days of back-to-back meetings and decline ones without a clear agenda.

They take time to learn

Effective leaders don’t bulldoze their way into a team. Instead, they figure out how to apply their skills and knowledge to the team’s needs. They ask questions. They listen. They know it’s most effective to share their point of view at the right time, within the right context. They test ideas with colleagues and brainstorm with their team. They know they cannot do everything themselves.

They integrate the team’s ideas with their own

One of the best ways to accelerate the “new leader stage” is to do an integration exercise within the first several weeks of starting your new role. It’s a process I’ve done with scores of leaders and teams. How it works: Without the leader in the room, the team shares concerns, assumptions they’ve made, expectations they have, and hopes for the future. Then the leader rejoins the team, and together, they review themes, establish commitments, and clarify priorities.

I recently had the opportunity to do the exercise with Reema Batnagar, the new chief people officer at Pixar, and her team. Here’s what it looked like.

The questions for the team:

  1. What do we already know about Reema?
  2. What don’t we know but would like to know about Reema?
  3. What are our fears or concerns about Reema becoming our leader?
  4. What do we want most/hope for with Reema?
  5. What is working well within the overall team that you would like to keep?
  6. What does Reema need to know about how we communicate, collaborate, hold meetings, make decisions, hold each other accountable, and deal with conflict?
  7. What recommendations do we have for dealing with issues and meeting challenges?
  8. What advice would we offer Reema?
  9. What else do we want her to know about us?
  10. What commitments are we willing to make to support Reema?

The questions for Reema:

  1. How is it best to communicate with you (email, Slack, text, live, phone)?
  2. What decisions do you want to be a part of?
  3. What does a strategic people organization look like to you?
  4. You have heard from EE roundtables and senior leaders. What have you heard?
  5. If you could change one thing in the organization, what would it be?

Reema and the team discussed their respective answers together. She spoke about her compassionate leadership style, the behaviors she is unwilling to tolerate, and what she’d like to see more of across the team and organization. The team members then shared advice for her to succeed as their leader. At the end of the day, everyone had more clarity about how they would tackle their objectives, and more excitement about working together as an aligned unit. Because of how she established herself early on, Reema quickly moved past being a “new leader,” and now simply leads.

Originally published at on April 6, 2019.

Systems Thinker & Doer. Writer. Advisor. Speaker. Contextualizer. Connector.

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