When a new leader enters the picture, the opening days are critical to the leader’s success. First impressions matter. In the numerous times I’ve been the “new guy," I’ve learned that the impressions created in the initial days…positive or negative…are often hard to overcome. The initial momentum a new leader may have can be jeopardized by the environment created during the opening days of his or her leadership tenure.
In case you haven’t heard, I’m transitioning to a new ministry role in the next few weeks.
Recently I met with all the staff of the new church. I had spent time with the lead staff, but this was everyone. Some of these people, simply because of the nature of our responsibilities, I will spend less time with than others. I know with this group, a poor impression in the beginning will be harder to overcome, because I will have less opportunity to correct it.
In an attempt to release some of the pressure on this early phase, I shared with them three requests for the beginning of my tenure as a leader.
Level the Playing Field
If we are going to be a team, let’s act like it from the beginning. I told them if they treat me less like a boss, I’ll treat them more like partners in ministry. I realize there is tension and apprehension with any change of leadership. The more we can get on equal ground from the beginning the less tension all of us will feel. I want to be seen as a team player from the start. I realize they are looking to me for leadership, and I’ll assume that role, but I lead as a part of the team, not outside the team.
Lower the Bar
I set high expectations for my teams. I’m seldom completely satisfied with myself or the teams I lead. I want to be effective in every area of the ministry. I like to celebrate accomplishment, but I’m always wondering how we could do things better next time. In the early days of a leader’s tenure, however, the team may not be functioning on all cylinders yet. That’s okay. That will come in time.
For the early days, let’s not expect to get things right every time. Let’s not expect that we will perfectly gel at first. Let’s give some time for error and mistakes to be made (by others and me), which will help us be a better team in the future. In the early days, it’s important for the new leader to learn the team dynamics, the individual strengths and weakness of team members, and to assess how a team can function better. It’s important for the team members to learn how the leader thinks and responds to situations and to develop enough trust and respect in him or her to willingly follow. That takes time.
Limit the Confusion
Miscommunication is deadly in the early days of a new relationship. Let’s not be afraid to ask questions such as, “What do you mean? Are you saying _____? Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Can you help me understand why_____?” Even if you have to say, “Ron, you’re an idiot!” it would be better than misunderstanding something and building wedges in our relationship that may take months or years to correct. The communication in the beginning days are that important. We must practice good listening skills and have the patience to explain ourselves when needed. I shared with them that I’ve been accused by teams in the past of not giving enough to details to be understood completely. If you are uncertain what I’m asking you to do, please ask. I will not be offended.
I realize all of this will take time for them to learn to trust me as a leader, but hopefully we can create an atmosphere in the beginning conducive for a healthy team to form.