All too often, when a new leader joins an organisation they jump in feet first and are eager to make an impact straight away. Some of this comes down to our culture of busyness or our ‘cult of speed’ that I wrote about in my previous blog. We don’t want to be seen to be wasting time, we feel the need and the pressure to get things done and make changes quickly and efficiently. New leaders know that all eyes are on them and everyone is holding their breadth to see what their next move is going to be. To be seen to do nothing, straight away, can be misconstrued as a sign of weakness, a sign of failure. The new leader joining a business may be highly anticipated, with the employees expecting to see changes and improvements made quickly. The pressure is on for the new leader to perform.
But it shouldn’t be this way. Quite the opposite. An exceptional leader recognises the need to do very little when they first join an organisation. They recognise the need to put their ear to the floor and get a good feel for the organisation BEFORE they make the necessary changes to show the world they truly are the mover and shaker everyone expects them to be. As leaders beginning somewhere new, we need to have a solid understanding of the environment we find ourselves in before we look to change it. Here’s a great analogy;
Psychologist and author Robert Levine and his students compared 31 countries around the world regarding their pace of everyday life and published his findings in his book A Geography or Time which talks about how different people and cultures deal with the concept of time. He went around the world and measured how long it took individuals to perform simple tasks. For example, in one experiment, they timed the average walking speed of random pedestrians over the distance of 60 feet. He concluded that the fastest big cities tend to come from Western Europe and industrialized Asia, whereas economically struggling countries tend to be the slowest. Overall his studies have concluded three things: "Places differ markedly in their overall speed of life. These differences are to at least some degree predictable by demographic, economic and environmental characteristics. And, these differences have consequences for the well-being of individuals." Lavine found that generally, the closer you live to the equator, the faster you are.
With this theory in mind, imagine a leader coming from a ‘fast’ background, into a ‘not so fast’ culture. The presumptuous leader who does not come with an open mind ready to absorb the current culture of the organisation, could conclude that the employees are lazy. But they may not be, it may be that they just operate at a slower speed and that because of this they make less mistakes and have a much better finished quality of work/ product. The presumptuous leader could have assumed that the because the output levels were not as fast as he/ she would expect that the overall productivity was low. But upon deeper reflection, it could be seen that this pace actually works to the advantage of overall production and instead of replacing staff, changes could be made around the overall speed, so ‘speed’ isn’t targeted as a problem, but embraced.
The right way to enter a new environment as a leader
Next time you are in the position of starting a new role in a new company, or new department, go in slowly. Leave enough time to fully absorb your new environment, meet everyone and invite feedback and open discussions to get a good understanding of how things are done. It’s important to listen to the different perspectives of staff and to focus on building rapport and trust before you make any big decisions. To manage everyone’s expectations, let people know you are taking time to get to know the company inside and out before making any changes. Perhaps the first big impact you can make to your new organisation is to instil a sense of mindfulness is doing things; to encourage others to listen, to be open-minded and to reflect on the way they do things too.
As leaders entering new environments, we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on our ability to reshape an organisation. Of course we want to leave our mark and introduce new and innovative ways of doing things. But first we have take the time to fully absorb the way things are currently done and how effective they are; to clearly identify what the challenges are and to get feedback from people within the company. Each organisation has their own unique pace and culture. Each organisation has a life of its own. Take the time to ‘tune in’ to it first. Find the flames that work and that need to be encouraged and the flames that don’t and need to be extinguished.
Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!