What to Talk About First with New Team Members

Don’t make new team members fill out paper work their first morning. Don’t immediately jump into some kind of intense meeting or financial review. Use the time and the power of first impressions. Focus on what really matters—the culture of your organization.

One leader suggested the following. She has a conversation with each new team member on their first day. During this conversation she has them take a pin and place it in a large map of the US she keeps in her office and asks the new employee to place the pin near their home town.

She begins this conversation by pointing out that they all come from different cultures. They all have different values. They all have different educations. They all have different family dynamics. Different faith traditions. And that all of them have different motivations for being on the team.

She might even point out some of the more interesting things about some of the senior team members (with their permission, of course) and discuss the new comer’s background and how they see themselves fitting in based on all the unique things about them.

This valuable first conversation is about inclusion and diversity. While there are many valid first conversations with a new team member, making them feel unique and included and letting them know that the organization welcomes diversity can go a long way towards making the new guy feel at home immediately.

Why Absent Leaders Are the Most Destructive

Absent leaders are those who enjoy the privileges of leadership yet avoid useful involvement with their team. This style of leadership is marked solely by its destructive nature.

For some team members having a boss that lets you do as you please sound great—especially if they are being bullied or micromanaged by their current leader. However, a top complaint among team members about leaders is when they are absent. Team members tend to be most concerned with what their leaders don’t do.

Being ignored by one’s team leader doesn’t foster a work culture of individual responsibility, rather one of being treated poorly and being alienated. Impact of an absent leader on an organization is more immediate and long lasting than any other kind of destructive leadership archetype as well as the constructive ones. Some even believe it contributes to other organizational issues like increased bullying between team members, role ambiguity, additional stress and possibly even health complaints.

In large organizations, despite their destructive nature, absent leaders often go unnoticed. For example, in one fictional organization two senior team members go over the head of their absent, do-nothing leader to complain. The higher-up they complain to says that they already have a handful of bad leaders to deal with—one who has a substance abuse issue, one who is constantly being sent to HR, and another accused of misusing the organization’s money. This higher-up tells the senior team members they simply don’t have time to deal with someone who isn’t actively making waves and they will just have to deal with it.

While this fictional organization clearly has all kinds of problems it demonstrates how do-nothing, absent leaders can fall between the cracks and be left in their position because their offenses are not overt. So, an absent leader can be left in their position for years, slowly poisoning the organization.

Avoid the Pitfalls of Decision Making

Mistakes are unavoidable but we can avoid making “dumb decisions.” There are things that all people with different kinds of intelligence do to themselves that lead to these dumb decisions.

One classic mistake is overthinking. Intelligent people often make the mistake of over analysis. Especially as a leader we will have both external and internal pressure to make the right decision. More than like there is no way for us to turn down the external pressure, we can only control the pressure we put on ourselves.

No one will ever make the right decision always—so we must stop putting that pressure on ourselves. We will make mistakes, but we are prepared for that. Don’t over analyze your every move or you will paralyze your decision-making ability.

Something we can do to streamline decision making is to make small decisions and often. The further we put off making single, small decisions the more they grow into monsters pending on our to-do list. In business and often in life decisions have a due date. Keep up with the small ones to avoid to-do list full of monsters on down the line. Additionally, making a bad decision on a small matter is more fixable than the alternative.

Not making a decision is also a decision and getting caught in that feedback loop can be dangerous.

Some Words to Subtract from Your Professional Lexicon

Any good writer will tell us that a single word can totally change the shade or tone of a sentence or passage. This is true of conversation as well. A single word can act on the subconscious of subordinates and peers alike and could change the level of confidence they have in your communication.

One of these words is “think” especially used in the phrase “I think.” But who doesn’t use the phrase “I think?” While it may sound as if you are taking possession of the idea with this short preface, but in reality when one says something like “I think I have a good idea” this will often lead the listener to believe that you are unsure of whether the idea is good or not, that you are still mulling it over.

In casual conversation, “I think I’ll have lunch with George,” it is essentially a throw away phrase. But you might want to drop this phrase from your professional lexicon.
Another trouble word is “need.” While it may seem to emphasis an obligation on the part of the subordinate or peer it can also come of as, well, needy. “I need this project finished by the due date” might make it sound as if you are dependent on the person or obligation.

Similar to “need” is “want” which can be taken as an emotional appeal rather than a statement of fact. “I want your reports to be of a higher quality” is not as definitive as “These reports need to be of a higher quality.” Or try “I want a raise because my work has been good” sounds emotional compared to “The quality of my work this year is worthy of a raise.”

Other words like “guess,” “hope,” and “suppose” all work in likewise fashions. Using “hope” can add an element of uncertainty or even doom. “Guess” and “suppose” both, again, could lend an element of uncertainty to an idea one is proposing.

Leaders. Look Forward.

History has not been kind to leaders. Many we that we might claim to be successful (outside the context of our morals) were autocratic and aggressive: Lenin, Alexander the Great, Mao Tse Tung. And often the rewards of leadership are severe such as in the case of Ghandi, JFK or Lincoln.

So if we cannot look to history what does the modern leader look like?

For one, they should always themselves and their organization be looking toward the future. First and foremost, the leader needs to realize his role is never permanent. Look at the UK Football Champion ship s an example, managers often last less than a year one a single team.

A good leader is always building a succession of talent—really a leader’s job is to prepare the path forward and teach those who will one day lead.

But this isn’t just planning for the future. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, surround yourself with smart people and let them tell you what to do. Recognize these people and allow them to move the organization forward while you facilitate their talent.

These smart people need the infrastructure provided by the organization and the ability of the leader to bring each expert together to solve problems and get projects done. They should see that current leadership is preparing future roles for them.

The Power of To-Do’s

Leadership To-Do’s

No good leader is stagnant in their ways and such a leader cannot expect their subordinates to grow if they themselves are not willing to grow. Whether it is quarterly, at the half year or annually leaders and anyone wanting to change themselves for the better can work on the follow list of To-Do’s for self-betterment.

Find some new role models to focus during the next cycle. These role models could somehow represent other goals in your list or the could be just be new faces who share your values. It is important to take on unfamiliar perspectives to expand our ability to understand all different kinds of people.

Decide on two good habits you want to develop. Also, choose one bad habit you want to rid yourself of. Let go of that which isn’t useful or productive and nurture your best self. Find happy mediums and moderation. Come up with one month’s worth of plans for activities that will help you normalize the good, new habits and break the bad ones. Small, but deliberate actions will help reach your habit changing goals.

No matter your time line for everything else, choose one new subject area you would like to learn about over the next year. Set reasonable goal to reach and out line the learning process as you imagine it. By always learning we make ourselves more complex and interesting as well as opening ourselves to new ways of thinking.

Make a list of new books you’ll read. Again, it is helpful to be realistic in your planning. You might choose titles that have something to do with you habit changing goals or your learning of a new subject if your plans are feeling a little overwhelming.

Keep it simple. Keep it realistic. Stick to your plan. Become a more interesting person.