In my experience...the first step is to 'listen and learn'
Updated: Jan 2, 2019
How many times are we in situations where we’re the ‘new’ person?
…New job / role?
…New boss / team?
There are countless other scenarios, work- and non-work-related, that could be added to that list. During various periods in our professional lives being ‘new’ seems to be the rule rather than the exception. If you enjoy change and newness, these are likely exciting times, even if not always fun or easy. If you don’t enjoy change or newness, exciting is probably not the appropriate descriptor.
In my experience, I’ve had more success ‘being new’ when I listen and learn first and then take action. Depending on the situation, this period of listening and learning could be minutes or it could be days, and it doesn’t mean I don’t take action while listening and learning. Over time I believe I’ve become better at using this approach to inform and guide my decisions and actions.
This certainly isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s been effective for me when I've been put in new leadership, client or project situations. Early in my consulting career I was brash and arrogant and believed that because I was the consultant I had to come into new situations ‘knowing everything’ and ‘being the expert’. Looking back, I shake my head at my idiocy. I admire those who are newer in their careers and seem to better navigate this phase.
This isn’t a commentary on age or years of experience, rather it’s about ‘approach’. On numerous occasions I’ve watched as new (with or without experience) leaders or team members try to impose their will from day one, in an attempt to show strength or power, without making an effort to get a sense for the people, projects, goals, what is working, what isn’t working, etc. More often than not my observation has been that this ‘approach’ fails. Failure manifests in myriad ways…a project fails, a team disbands, distrust ensues, people leave, targets are missed, efficiency is lost, timeframes extend, estimates are exceeded, control is lost and on and on. Being a strong and powerful leader is a result of your approach, not just your desire to be one.
As a consultant I’ve had many experiences and learnings that contribute to my approach to any new situation. My goal is to use those when I’m with new clients or on new projects. Even when a client brings me in for my knowledge, I still listen and learn, because while I may know the subject matter, I likely don’t know the people, the current state of the organization, what has worked, what hasn’t worked, etc. Following this approach, I’m better able to build trust and gain the confidence of those I’m working with. I won’t be successful if the people around me aren’t successful, and I’ve found more success by listening and learning first.
Special thanks to Peter Cunningham, who took a chance on me in 2011 which kicked off an amazing journey, and to Kevin Prine, whose listening ear and counsel I've benefited from for 20+ years.