How new leaders can make a positive and lasting impact

Joining an organisation in an executive position can be daunting, says Richard Goold, but there are ways to build a solid foundation in the first few weeks 

Stepping into a new leadership role can be a huge challenge for anyone, especially in today’s fast-paced business world, where expectations are high and new CEOs and executives are expected to hit the ground running. Regardless of the business and regardless of where the business is at in terms of performance, its reputation in the market or anything that has gone before, there are several areas that a new leader can focus on to quickly build authentic relationships, build goodwill and begin to deliver results. 

Make your teams feel heard

Ensuring that people feel heard and empowered in your organisation, early on in your tenure, will help to create connections and build trust. Setting the right tone from day one, encouraging dialogue and listening without judgement will be key in being able to assimilate yourself with your new environment. Creating spaces to listen to what people have to say will help leaders to understand the history of the organisation, the mood across the organisation and how this may be informing or influencing current behaviours (and subsequently performance). 

Be a clear and effective communicator 

The success of your business will rely on effective, coherent and consistent communication. As a new leader, it is a vital tool for building trust, aligning efforts in the pursuit of common goals, and inspiring positive change. In a new role, leaders will need to be open, honest and authentic about where the company is at, the direction of travel and what it wants to be – its purpose. If clear communication is lacking, important information can be misinterpreted, causing relationships to suffer and, ultimately, creating barriers that hinder progress. Where possible, tailor messages to specific team members and connect on a personal level so that your colleagues see you as a human being before anything else. 

Prepare a shared vision to unite your organisation

Many businesses fail if people feel that their work does not matter. An effective and sustainable relationship between a leader and their teams is often underpinned by a unifying purpose, and vision underpinned by shared values. Therefore, an early priority has got to be ensuring that the purpose of the organisation is truly something that will unify people and galvanise the full extent of their discretionary effort. It will be the purpose and vision for the future that will create a golden thread that links what they do on a daily basis to what the business needs them to do.

Acknowledge your limitations and seek help where needed 

Given the demands of running a business in what is an unprecedented economic climate, business leaders should not feel they need to handle every problem and face every challenge or uncertainty alone. The stigma around leaders being humble and/or vulnerable is eroding in recognition that heightened self-awareness and the confidence to reach out for support, guidance and advice pays dividends. This help could come from the existing leadership team, who have legacy knowledge of the business and can help steady the ship, an executive coach or an experienced mentor. Running a business should not be seen as a solitary pursuit and it is the leaders who regularly seek help who are best placed to unlock new opportunities for growth. 

Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others 

The stresses, challenges and unpredictability of leadership are considerable, and Covid, lockdown and virtual working have only made the task more strenuous and complex. More business leaders are publicly speaking out about the pressures and challenges of leadership on mental health and wellbeing, which is a welcome development. It’s important for new leaders to take active steps to look after their own mental health and wellbeing – being role models for others. This focus on wellbeing should also extend to the workplace and it is essential for modern business leaders to be proactive when it comes to the mental health, wellbeing and happiness of the workforce. 

It is really important that leaders approach any new role as a transition. With this in mind and with the right mindset, support network, commitment to listen and a genuine desire to engage on a human level with others, joining a new organisation presents an exciting opportunity to deliver positive change. 

As a leader, first impressions really matter. Compassion, connection and humility are rapidly becoming defining traits for extraordinary leaders and brings into focus the fact that we build our reputation in inches and lose it in feet. 

Richard Goold is CEO of Wondrous