You Can't Microwave Your Leadership
by Dr. Karen Otazo
"The Truth About Being A Leader... and
Nothing But The Truth"
The gadgets in our lives have made us accustomed to
instant results. Thanks to your microwave oven, you can have a hot
meal any time, day or night, in a matter of seconds. But some things
still cannot be rushed. If you want a soufflé, there’s no way around
it: you'll have to take it slow.
Leadership relationships are like that. When moving
into a new leadership role, you have to let meaningful connections
develop gradually. Wise leaders don’t just jump in and start telling
people what to do. They devote the first ninety days of their tenure
to establishing new -- and refreshing old -- relationships with all
key players. This builds confidence and trust, so that those
relationships are primed and ready, and don’t fall flat, just when
you need them. It also means that you don’t tread on anyone’s toes.
Take Geoffrey, who became head of a Midwestern oil
services company following a two-year stint as president of
Indonesian operations. Geoffrey had been with the company for 18
years, but he knew that after having been away it was vital to
rebuild old relationships and create new ones.
During his first months, Geoffrey got to know his
team. He asked for their thoughts about what was working and what
wasn't. He listened, and acted when he could make a difference. He
made small changes like removing obstructionist bosses and creating
office space, and consulted with his growing network about larger
changes for the future. He also established connections with people
outside his organization, making overtures to political figures in
Washington, and volunteering to chair an American Petroleum
Institute committee. Knowing that the VP was concerned about
Mexico's oil industry, Geoffrey also went to Mexico City and brought
back up-to-date information from his contacts there.
In all of this, Geoffrey didn't forget to make
midnight phone calls to his colleagues in Indonesia to update them.
By the end of those ninety days, he had laid a solid groundwork of
new and continuing relationships that boded well for the future. His
success offers lessons for anyone moving into a leadership role:
Identify connections that will be vital to you in
your new role.
Try drawing a map of all current and potential relationships within
your organization. Put yourself at the center with the others in a
circle around you. They may include: your boss and boss's
colleagues, your colleagues, groups that support you
(Communications, Human Resources, etc.), and your direct reports.
Do the same for your external relationships. Depending on your job,
you may want to create or reinforce relationships with: your
professional society, politicians, consultants, vendors, and
academics or experts.
Background research -- talking to people you know or
looking on the Internet -- is useful in establishing who’s who.
Knowing something about someone before you meet him or her also
shows that you care about the relationship and gives you a point of
Consult with people and share your plans.
Once you’ve identified and researched those vital connections,
approach people for information and input. Many will have valuable
insights that will help craft your leadership vision and agenda. As
you establish the key elements of your strategy, continue to check
in with those people, internal and external, who are most involved
in or implicated by them, running your plans by them at the end of
the ninety days. This lets people know that you've been listening,
and shows them how you plan to move forward with their input.
Keep it up:
After your initial information-gathering period, it may be tempting
to let some relationships slide, but maintaining them is a wise
investment, as you never know when you may need them. Consider
having your assistant monitor a list of your key contacts, so you
can schedule regular, brief conversations with them.
Taking the time to build and renew relationships
early on in your tenure is essential. It is through your
relationships that you get things done. Be sure to make them a top