The trouble with trying to make a good first impression when starting a new job is that you don’t understand the context. This means people may not receive your communication in the way you mean it.
Define the verb to “dust.”
That’s not as easy as you think. It has different and occasionally opposite meanings. If I dust the table, I’m removing particles of dirt. If I dust the strawberries with sugar, I’m adding sugar. If I dust a batter in baseball, I’m pushing them back. And if someone dusts you in a race, they defeat you badly, leaving you in their dust.
None of you are likely to start a new job by telling people that you’re a big believer in dust. But you may do something similar without even meaning to.
Here’s why this matters. Our general prescription is that you dramatically increase your chances of success in a new job if you converge into the team before trying to evolve it. Organizational cultures are hard-wired to resist threats from the outside. As a new leader, you’re an outside threat. You have to become part of the culture before you can lead it in any way. Any early miscommunication impedes and delays your convergence.
Be. Do. Say. In that order. Get clear on who you are. Act that way. Then, later, talk about it.
Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. It’s not about you. It’s not even about the team. It’s about realizing the shared purpose.
Yet, your leadership has to start with you. Get clear on what matters to you and why. If that isn’t aligned with the organization’s purpose, you’ve got a problem. Note it’s not the organization’s problem. The organization is not going to change. It’s your problem because you’re probably in the wrong organization.
As I’ve written before, there are only three interview questions getting at strengths, motivation and fit. I’ve written you have to get the job before you can turn down the job. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
The point here is that you need to do a two-way due diligence before accepting the job. Make sure you really do have the strengths required to do the job. Make sure you really do care about the organization’s purpose. And make sure you can fit with the organization’s culture.
Once I got recruited to be chief marketing officer of International Paper. My experience up to that point included a lot of consumer products marketing. International Paper was a production machine with about 80,000 engineers. I asked why they wanted someone like me. They said they wanted to make the culture more consumer focused. I realized that was not something I could ever do and withdrew from the search.
Step two is to live your purpose. Lead with your actions, not your words. Start doing the things that matter most to you and to the organization. A huge part of this is where you choose to spend your time, where you show up.
- If innovation and design matter, show up to help the designers and do things to enable them.
- If production discipline is important, show up to help enforce production policies.
- If distribution matters, show up to help enroll others across the eco-system.
- If serving customers is most important, spend time with customers, championing customer experience in everything you do.
Once you’ve demonstrated your beliefs to others, you can start talking about what matters and why – but only then. If you lead with your words, no one will believe you. Before you’ve demonstrated your convictions enough to earn people’s trust, stick to questions, not answers. You always have the right to learn, and you can signal what matters to you with the questions you ask. But, with regard to your early communication, “Show me” is more powerful pixie dust than “Tell me.”