Monday, January 5, 2009

Make people believers, not bystanders

Good story in the January '09 issue of Harvard Business Review about the keys to success for new leaders.

The authors outline five common traps that new leaders frequently fall into as they look to "prove themselves by going after quick wins" (i.e., early results).

Instead of "abandoning the quest for early results... the leaders who make the most successful transitions do, in fact, focus relentlessly on quick wins. But they focus on a different kind of achievement. Rather than riding roughshod over others to prove themselves, they pursue... 'collective quick wins,' accomplishments that make their entire teams look good."

Here are the five common traps:

1. Focus too heavily on details. "A tendency to get bogged down in minutiae. In looking for the quick win, the [new] leader tries to ace one component of the new job. Focusing intently on this goal, [he] doesn't pay enough attention to [his] broader responsibilities."

When a leader personally attends to details, the rest of the team/staff can't see a role for themselves in the effort. There's no "shared understanding." Further, when focusing on one area, a new leader can ignore "the performance issues they considered to be higher priorities."

2. Reacting negatively to criticism. "At the very least, an inability to deal with criticism means that the leader takes much longer to improve in areas of relative weakness."

3. Intimidating others. "When leaders come to new roles convinced of their brilliance and the inevitability of their rise..., they can be intimidating to those around them. Confident of their plans' success, [new leaders] can mistake their team's compliance for agreement and endorsement."

4. Jumping to conclusions. "Some leaders hoping to score a quick win jump into its implementation too quickly. To the people around them, it feels as if these leaders have arrived with the solution already formulated instead of engaging others in its design."

5. Micromanaging. "Leaders new to their roles often make the mistake of meddling in work they should trust others to do. Unwilling to take the time to get [the team] on board with an overall vision or goal -- but afraid their decisions and actions won't align with it -- they second-guess and micromanage."

According to the authors, members of "the team must make real, direct contributions." In their words, "Make people believers, not bystanders."

They recommend asking, "Can key players on the team see their fingerprints on the outcome? Would they cite their contributions with pride? If the answer to either questions is no, the win is not collective."

Further, "a leader... should engage a respected member of the team to help." Why? Because this person "may have more credibility with the team than [the new leader] does, so the early endorsement will quickly alleviate the skepticism of other team members."