Wanting to make a positive first impression as the new leader of a team is a pretty common desire.
Whether it’s truly being new to leadership, the first time leading a team, or even taking over perhaps an underperforming, jaded team, making a positive first impression can help set the right tone. Or, at the very least, help start the relationship on the right foot.
So what are some things that leaders can do to help ensure a positive first impression?
The most essential aspect is being authentic.
Hopefully, you're a people person. If you're in leadership, whether you decided to be a leader or fell into being a leader, hopefully it means that you care deeply about people.
Because, of course, as you've heard me say, there is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. The leader is the person who cares, who truly is there to elevate the team members, and the boss is just the one saying: “Do this”.
So be authentic when you're introducing yourself, when you're talking with these new team members. Show that you care. If you were to show up as “someone else” because you believe that a leader behaves a certain way, the team will pick up on something not being authentic.
They may not be able to pick up on exactly what it is, but will feel that something is not quite right. They'll pick up on something being off. And if you're trying to just be somebody else, the team may not be able to say that you're just trying to be somebody else because they don't know you yet, but they will suspect something is off.
And keep in mind that, even though you’re being your most authentic self, the team may have been burned by a boss type rather than a leader type. And they may need time.
Let the team get to know you. Let them see who you are. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
I'm not saying oversharing here. I'm not saying, tell the team all about your entire life and all of your deep dark secrets. But do let them in a little bit. Let them see your personality, who you are.
Being a benevolent leader does not mean being a friend.
There is a distinction between the two.
Trying to be a friend as a leader is more like trying to hang out with them, be buddy-buddy. Being friendly as a leader is more about being approachable, being kind, caring. Even sharing a laugh and some stories.
But it’s important to keep that perspective. One of the reasons is that there may come a time when we may need to reprimand that person or even let them go. And if, as a leader, you've blurred those lines, there is a risk of the team member feeling betrayed and taking it personally. There is also the risk of becoming overly-invested and losing your objectivity.
As a leader, from the very first meeting, you're setting the tone.
Show by your words, your tone of voice, your body language, that you are looking forward to collaborating with this new team. Show them that you're happy to be there. Show that enthusiasm and excitement.
If you’re in a situation where there's a lot of work to do, then acknowledge that there's a lot of work to do. Acknowledge that these are challenging times or that there will be challenging times ahead. And that collaboration is key to finding that right path forward. Be upfront about it.
In that same vein, express that you can't wait to gain insights from these existing team members. That you can't wait to learn from them. Be that curious leader, not just the leader/boss that comes in with all the answers. Show them that you've done your homework. That you made the effort to find out what the team does and how that fits into the organization as a whole.
If, as a result of this research, it sparks many ideas, resist walking into that first meeting and sharing all of these ideas. It's great to share your enthusiasm! But keep in mind that these ideas may have been tried before. They may have failed before. The team may have suffered the consequences of those failed ideas before. Make sure that you have an open mind to listen to the team.
Again, hopefully, as their new leader, you are truly excited by this opportunity and look forward to learning from the team. Showcase that excitement. Showcase that you're there to help them achieve both personal and professional growth. Let that shine through in your first meeting. And that should help you as the new leader, make a positive first impression on the team.