Jane was a whirlwind of activity. Full of energy and ideas, she started her new role as the VP of Marketing for a financial services company running full speed. The industry needed to change, and she rightly understood that to survive and thrive, the company she just joined needed to change as well. She had assumed that her new team, and the rest of the company for that matter, would embrace her enthusiasm. However, despite good intent, she hit what felt like a brick wall of mistrust. The more people resisted, the harder she pushed. The harder she pushed, the lower the trust. In the end she had a mutiny on her hands, and her plans stalled.
What went wrong?
First impressions matter. This is especially true for new leaders. When a new leader puts their agenda ahead of building high trust relationships, resistance to change is the consequence. This is what happened to Jane. She was much younger than many of the people she was now leading — a few of them had been with the company for over 20 years. She was an unknown quantity, and team members were not sure how to interact with her. This uncertainty created insecurity and fear, which led to self-protection. What’s more, her dogmatic approach to change — pushing an agenda without getting to know the team first — came across as arrogant and uninformed.
A different approach for the first 30 days.
The first thing we suggest for a leader assuming a new role is pumping the brakes on change. Remember, you need actively engaged team members to make change work. By slowing down and focusing on building trust and engagement, the change process accelerates. What follows are two practical ways to transform the first 30 days into building high trust relationships.
Be transparent and vulnerable.
By creating the right conditions for team members to get to know you, and you to get to know them, you build trust in your intent. This is not just sharing what is in your resume. Rather, it is about giving the team a window into the real you. This includes areas such as personal information (family, values, interests), your personality type, your leadership philosophy, your natural styles of leadership, and communication preferences. It might also include sharing about your strengths and weaknesses, which demonstrates humility. Encourage team members to do the same. This understanding builds trust and creates the right conditions for honest dialogue.
Go on a listening tour.
Instead of imposing your ideas, vision and will on the team, spend the first 30 days listening for understanding. Ask open-ended questions that invite real conversation. Remember, team members are asking themselves, “Does this new leader care about what I think and care about me as a person?” Team members will have high trust in the motive of their leader if they perceive this leader is responsive to them, rather than primarily focused on their own agenda.
Listening and being responsive to what you are hearing communicates understanding, validation and care. The new leader who spends the first 30 days asking the following questions is more likely to be perceived as responsive:
What is it like to work here? What do you like the best and what do you like the least? (Understanding)
What can I to do to help you do your job more effectively? (Caring)
What are your hopes and dreams for what you want to accomplish in this organization? (Validation)
Having built trust, this leader can now pursue change through influence. When it is time to communicate the vision and why it matters, the vision is more likely to be viewed as coming from a place of understanding and care. As a result, team members are much more likely to be actively engaged and committed to the vision, and eager to help with the heavy lifting required to make real change happen.
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