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You're In Charge. Now What?

Copyright 2005 Inez Ng

For years now, you have been waiting patiently for that first opportunity to be put in charge of a group and show what you can do. It has finally happened. You are giddy with excitement and your head is full of ideas. You can't wait to implement, create change, and leave your mark. Before you charge up the hill, possibly leaving everybody else behind, there's something that you really need to handle first.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Business is built on relationships and having a solid trusting relationship with your team is a must. They will put out efforts for you just by virtue of your position. And they will put out super-human efforts for you if they respect you and buy into your vision. The ability to inspire great performance is what sets great leaders apart from the rest. Spend some time to build these relationships and it will create a huge impact on your effectiveness as a leader.

Get to Know Them

You don't need to be their buddy, and it is helpful to know the members of your team on a human level. If you are wondering how to begin, here's a list of questions to get you started:

- How long have you been in your position?
- What are your concerns about your work?
- What are some of the biggest obstacles you face?
- How can I help in these areas?
- How would you like us to work together?
- Where do you see yourself progressing in this company?
- How do you feel things are going in this group in general?

If you are a brand new manager, and an unknown entity, your team members may be hesitant to bare their souls at this stage. Don't push too hard. Be truly sincere about wanting to know their answers, with the objective of helping them and improving the team. Show a genuine interest in their opinions. Don't train them to tell you what they think you want to hear. Learn what they do for the group and the impact they make. Acknowledge their contribution. Thank them for their honesty. Soon you will have the trust you need to have them openly share what's on their mind.

When you perform this initial relationship building discussion well, you will gather very helpful information about the current status of your team, and the challenges and opportunities open to you. Spot trends and patterns while you analyze your data. Review your plan for the team and see what adjustments are needed based on what you have discovered.

Let Them Get to Know You

Be aware that most people are anxious about getting a new boss. Their old one might be Attila the Hun, but at least they know what to expect. You need to put them at ease and the best way to do that is to share information that they want to know but may not be ready to ask.

I suggest you accomplish this through a short staff meeting. There's safety in numbers, and they will be more willing to ask questions in a crowd as opposed to a one-on-on situation. Prepare for the meeting so it is productive. Even if you only have three items, list an agenda, a starting time, and an ending time. Do your best to stick to your agenda and time schedule. This may be their first glimpse at your work style, so put forth the effort to make a good impression.

As a start, cover the following items about yourself:

- Brief work history 'they want to know you are qualified and credible.
- Your work style 'are you hands-off, or do you love every detail. This helps guide how they will interact with you. If you like to hold monthly status meetings, tell them that.
- Your vision for the team 'it may be early in the game, but they want reassurance that their leader knows where they are headed.
- Your expectations 'in a group setting, this will be general. If missing deadlines is an offense punishable by death in your book, let them know up front. Do you like people to question decisions? Do you like unsolicited feedback, or shall they wait till you ask?

Make sure you allow some time for them to ask questions. Encourage dialogue and notice the dynamics of the group. Spot any trouble areas, and note any strength you want to leverage.

I have been plunked smack dab in the middle of about half a dozen different work groups in my career, and this approach has always served me well. It's impossible to lead when others choose not to follow. Then you are dragging them behind you and that's a lot of work. First set the foundation so they are willing and eager followers, and leading becomes a breeze.

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