Humbler Ways To Make A Bold First Impression

Landing a new job, especially a promotion, can be an exciting career move — but not without its share of complications. This can be particularly true for leaders whose zeal for racking up early wins can be perceived as threatening to those who don’t know them or their intentions, setting up these leaders and their teams for potential conflict and friction

Instead of waiting for acclimation, new leaders can take control of their own image with deliberate and proactive actions that demonstrate humility and earnestness — qualities that go a long way towards forming a positive and lasting first impression.

Sharpen your listening. 

While past experience can be a useful guide, it’s not always translatable across different work cultures. New leaders should resist the temptation to deploy practices of their past without taking time to asses the current landscape. Rather than make bold assumptions about what works (“At my old company, we did this”), leaders should adopt a listen-first, act-second approach built upon humbler qualities like inquiriy and reflection. 

There’s even a strong business case for “softer” leadership. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that teams with humble leaders — noted for their capacity to ask questions and listen attentively — performed better and did higher-quality work than teams whose leaders exhibited less humility. 

Show you’re an enthusiastic and engaged listener by immediately holding “discovery meetings” with direct reports. These one-on-one sessions should be brief and casual, focusing on questions like, “What’s worked well for our team in the past?” and “How can I best support you going forward?” Not only will you learn more about the dynamics of your new team, but you’ll likely gain their respect by honoring their preferences and past achievements.

Ask for genuine feedback.

Bringing your team inside the decision-making process is smart practice: Not only can it improve the quality of decisions, but it may also motivate others to stand behind those ideas and implement them.

At the same time, new leaders should be careful not to engage in what Stanford management professor Bob Sutton calls “sham participation” — asking for feedback about matters with pre-determined outcomes. This erodes trust and causes others to doubt your authenticity as a leader.

To collect genuine feedback, be upfront about your process. Manage expectations by making sure others understand what needs to be decided, how information will be gathered, and who will make the ultimate call. People may not like the decision that’s reached, but they’ll respect you for seeking and weighing their feedback with straightforward transparency.

Lead by serving others.

During a recent leadership retreat with a team of healthcare executives, I presented a simple thought experiment: What should employees in your hospital system think about its leaders? Their desired sentiment went something like this:

They are people I want to work for and would even put my own job on the line for.

You can’t earn that level of loyalty without reciprocity of trust. As I’ve said often in print and from the stage, leaders don’t build trust — they breed it. It is an intangible quality that emerges from everyday acts of service that leaders seed within their teams and cultures.

Use your leverage as a leader to serve the “whole” employee. From putting limits on off-hours communication to sourcing opportunities for job-embedded, just-in-time continuous learning, leaders can promote the well-being and growth of others by seeking small but significant ways to serve their needs in and out of the workplace. Many of these gestures don’t cost much, but their impact is priceless. 

Humility, as C.S. Lewis has noted, isn’t demonstrated by thinking less of yourself but by thinking of yourself less. It’s an important reminder for leaders at all levels: Real strength comes from the way you strengthen those around you.

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