When I relocated to Texas after 5 years managing in Buffalo, NY, I took over a team where one of the representatives had gone through initial training with me. Lori and I had known each other for 10 years.
Two months into being her boss, Lori asked me point blank, “What is your problem? This is not the Dave Anderson I expected.”
My response was: “Lori. If I don’t roar now, I will never be able to roar later.”
I learned early on in Buffalo that I could not be my representatives’ best friend. It was a hard lesson I learned with my first team. However, it is a principle that has been critical to my success when building low maintenance teams.
Roaring early allowed me to establish priorities and standards on the team. The strength of my convictions was often tested early in my tenure with new teams. Someone’s decision or somebody’s actions challenged my professed priorities.
I believe my response to those tests set the standards for my team more than any Power Point presentation or individual conversations I had with my team. Just because I said they were standards meant nothing, if I didn’t have the courage to follow through on them.
My Challenge With Roaring Early
The biggest challenge for me was to act decisively when I was still new to the team. I have an inherent need to be liked. It was a matter of self-discipline for me. If I expected them to have the self-discipline to follow my expectations, I had to have the self-discipline to call them out when they didn’t.
Roaring early was unnatural for me and uncomfortable. But, as long as I was consistent about the priorities I was willing to roar about, my teams responded well. With each team, roaring early became easier and the benefits became apparent.
The Benefits Of Roaring Early
- Clarity: When a team gets a new leader, they tend to walk on eggshells for awhile. I was able to eliminate this uncertainty quickly. People knew where they stood early on.
- Consistency: Because I was consistent early on, my people became consistent in their performance. Within a few months, the priorities and expectations I roared about the first few months rarely needed to be roared about again.
- Credibility: My credibility went up over time. Because I disciplined myself to act when my priorities were challenged, the people I was responsible for leading tended to respect me and believe in me. When I did roar later, they were not surprised. They responded because I had demonstrated my willingness to act on my convictions before.
Three Keys To Roaring Early
1. Communicate Priorities Up Front
As a leader, I had to be sure my expectations were clear to my team. I kept them simple and focused. But, I had to be sure they heard them from me early.
When I communicated my priorities, I confirmed understanding with the entire team. I took questions and discussed scenarios that might test these priorities. The key was their initial understanding of what was important to me.
2. Over-communicate Priorities and Expectations
Once they heard it once, it had to be repeated. Learning comes through repetition. To truly implement change and then maintain that change, I strove to over-communicate my priorities and expectations.
I found that the more people heard about these topics, the more seriously they took them. Many leaders in their past had said something was important once, but never repeated it again. Therefore those priorities lacked impact.
3. Practice Rigid Flexibility
Once I was sure people understood, and I was over-communicating these priorities. I had to have the courage of my convictions to act when something went wrong.
I use the term rigid flexibility to describe my approach to this. There can be extenuating circumstances for someone who I think has not met expectations. I need to listen and be fair. But, I found the excuses were often just another test to my convictions.
The Bottom Line:
Most leaders enter a new team with a set of priorities and expectations. However, the lack of courage or self-discipline early in their tenure can derail their leadership for years, as it did mine on my first team.
My friend, Lori was surprised by my response that day. In fact, I don’t think she liked it. However, through the years, she stayed with me as we started multiple teams. She became an advocate of my approach, and our teams did extremely well.
By roaring early, I gave myself the ability to roar later. When I did roar later, I was being totally consistent with my actions in the past. I became a more credible leader.
When has inconsistency early in your leader’s career hurt them with their team later?