One of my earliest articles for this publication was on Powerful First Impressions: Michael Brune’s Day One at The Sierra Club. The main point was about the advantages of taking control of your own positioning in a new role.


That article looked at Michael Brune’s first day as Executive Director. Michael did several things right:

  • He switched his identity and allegiance instantly, talking about himself as part of his new organization.
  • He credited his predecessors and current team, telling people he hoped to follow their examples and build on their “victories.”
  • He started driving his message and communication points with what he said and what he did, wearing his own passion for the environment on his sleeve.
  • He started by listening instead of “talking, pontificating, declaring”. His first morning he met with his executive team to get an update what they were doing and connect with work they’d already done. He learned where they thought the organization was strong and where they thought it needed help.


He did one thing that our current best thinking suggests might have been handled differently:

  • After listening to the executive team and taking that in, Brune had an all-staff, multi-office meeting to introduce himself to all and lay out his own initial observations about places needing attention.

Our current best thinking is that that’s way too early to lay out a point of view about “places needing attention.” If a leader does that early, people think the leader came in with those ideas and didn’t take the time to understand the points of view of those already in the organization. It’s far more effective to spend even more time listening so you can build on what those in the organization are already thinking.

All-in Michael did well, serving as Executive Director of the Sierra Club for over a decade.


As you plan your own day one going forward, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • It is personal. As a leader, you impact peoples’ lives. Those people will try very hard to figure out you and your potential impact as soon as they can. They may even rush to judgment. Their first and most important question will be “What does this mean for me?” Keep that in mind at all times.
  • Order counts. Be deliberate about the order in which you meet with people and the timing of when you do what throughout Day One and your early days. Everything communicates – including the order in which you talk to people.
  • Messages matter. Have a message. Know what you are going to say and not say. Have a bias toward listening. Know that strong opinions, long-winded introductions and efforts to prove yourself immediately are rarely, if ever good Day One tactics. People will be looking to form opinions early. Keep that in mind while deciding when to listen, when to share, what to ask, who to ask, and how you answer. When speaking keep it brief, on point and meaningful.

Think “Be. Do. Say.” No one will believer what you say. They will believe what you do. Your actions must match your words. And they must match your core underpinning beliefs. If they don’t, you will get caught sooner or later.


  • Location counts. Think about where you will show up for work on Day One. Do not just show up at your designated office by default. Where you show up is part of your message.
  • Signs and symbols count. Be aware of all the ways in which you communicate, well beyond just words.
  • Timing counts. Day One does not have to match the first day you get paid. Decide which day you want to communicate as Day One to facilitate other choices about order and location.


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #793) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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