The art of first-time leadership

Becoming a new leader isn’t easy. But these key steps can make the process smoother, writes Stephen Archer

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Over the past few months, here in the UK, we have welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May, and England football manager Sam Allardyce. Allardyce, regrettably for him, didn’t last long. Leaders at all levels need to ensure they make the best first impression.

Becoming a business leader for the first time can be challenging, even for the most confident person. It can take a huge leap of faith, and can be a complete change in the way that someone is used to working. While it can be a time for celebration, it’s also a time for reflection on how best to approach the new role. First impressions count and, during the early weeks of any leadership, people will be watching.

New leaders need to convince those that put them there that they made the right choice, and, more importantly, to convince their workforce that they are the right person for the job.

This is even more important in today’s business world, as a recent report suggests that there is a large trust divide between leaders and the people who work for them.

Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer highlights that one in three people don’t trust their employer, and two-thirds feel that chief executives are too focused on short-term performance (see below left). Edelman suggests that, as a result, employees are far less likely to say positive things about the company they work for.

Managing every single employee throughout the day is an impossible job let alone keeping a track on the time they come in the office and leave. New companies can opt for specific time punch clock online systems which record every single employee check-in time to the accurate second and keeps this data for an extended period of time.

Building trust with employees from the outset, therefore, is one of the biggest challenges facing any new leader – and something they must focus hard to do. So how can you become a great leader and win the trust of your staff?

Here are my ten top tips that could get your leadership off to a flying start:

1 Start as you mean to go on

Act like you just took over. It’s important to set the tone of your leadership style from the off. You should have a confident manner, be self-assured and respectful to everyone you meet. Speak to people as you want to be spoken to – and remember to listen. The first few weeks will set the tone – that’s the period when people will develop their opinions of you, so work hard to earn people’s trust.

2 Set audacious goals

Part of a leader’s remit is to set goals that are bold and audacious. Such goals could take years to achieve, but they need to be specific enough that everyone in the organization understands them, buys into them and works together to achieve them.

3 Stamp out ‘them and us’

According to Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer there is still a ‘them and us’ type of culture within many organizations, with employees feeling very distant from senior management. Leaders need to be aware of this, and stamp it out if they believe this is the case in their organization. The message must be clear that ‘we’re all in this together’, but leaders need to work hard to ensure that this message filters through.

4 Always tell employees the truth

Don’t do everything yourself. Great leaders, like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, surround themselves with talented individuals who can offer their own solutions. Leaders provide the vision and set the goals, but they trust people to make it happen. They also need to be upfront about the business and where it’s heading. Communicating your vision for the future is key to getting people on board. If things need changing, let people know and ensure they are involved in making the changes. Show your confidence in them by letting them design a new strategy.

5 Don’t rescue people from events

People learn by ‘doing’. Letting people work things out for themselves and make their own mistakes is part and parcel of growing as a person and an employee.

6 Allow creative space, but insist on decisions

It’s important to give people time to innovate and come up with new ideas, different ways of doing things, and solutions to problems. However be clear that a decision is expected – and set a time limit for this.

7 Respect the roots of the business

The winning formula for your business success will no doubt have been created many years ago – but it’s important to remember how the business started. Honour those early pioneers and instil a sense of pride across the entire organization.

8 Be known as a decision maker

Leaders need to be decisive. There is little point having a leader incapable of making a decision, even if it turns out not to be the right one. Being indecisive can undermine confidence and trust. Leaders must lead, take a chance and make a decision based on the facts to hand at the time. This is the core skill of any successful leader.

9 Be radical and act swiftly

Leaders need to be the ones to take a risk and be radical in their thinking. Playing it safe was never a good business rule, and leaders need to make sure their business stays ahead of the game by acting quickly on new ideas and innovations.

10 Always be passionate, enthusiastic, proud – believe!

Practise what you preach. You must believe – so people follow and buy into your vision. Show that you are passionate, enthusiastic and proud. People spend a large part of their lives at work, so having a leader who is genuinely excited about the future of the company is hugely motivating
and inspiring.


— Stephen Archer is partner at Spring Partnerships LLP