Taking the Lead or Playing to Please

Taking the Lead or Playing to PleaseIt’s a brand new role. No one else has been here before. You have the opportunity to make a real mark. And here is where you face your first dilemma as the leader of this newly identified role. How is my success being assessed?  For that matter, even if it’s not a new role, a leader coming into a role new to her (or him), often realizes the difficulty of understanding how success in the role will be determined.

And one of the easiest ways to address the dilemma is to work hard to please the people who are most influential in determining your success. But that may not equate to the long-term success you’re looking for in your reputation as a leader.

It’s a blind alley that a lot of new leaders get into – the one-way street of working to please key people. Intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with it. Those people are important stakeholders. But too quickly it becomes an expectation that you’ll listen to their needs above others – and soon you’re compromised in delivering the results that will show off your serious, thoughtful leadership capability.

Given this dilemma, what’s the best way to serve yourself, your organization, and all your stakeholders?  Here are some directions you may want to take.

Get the pecking order right. You will not keep doing well in your organization if you don’t get clear about your priorities. The organization’s needs come first, regardless of who has some power. And a leader must demonstrate the courage to put organizational needs above any big guy’s pet ideas. In determining the organization’s needs, your priorities have to be to balance stakeholder needs, not place some at a disadvantage. Which means your needs come last. But you’ll find your desired end state will be best served by putting your priorities in this order.

Study the best loved leaders. What makes the most revered leaders in the organization so respected?  Chances are you will find traits like courage to speak to truth, transparency, care for people, and even-handed treatment of all.  Model your leadership at all times on those leaders.  You know their track record got them where you want to go.

Set an agenda for understanding how you’ll be assessed. You’re not going to feel fully comfortable taking difficult stands until you have a better idea of how your own boss will assess you. But it’s not uncommon for bosses to find it difficult to offer a clear answer. So consider it an evolution, and also a negotiation. Ask questions like, “Will I be doing a better job for all concerned if I go down this path or this other path?”  “If I take this stand, will I be ok even if it’s not viewed positively be one of the VPs?”

Seek plenty of input. Any leader in a new role is wise to go beyond the likely suspects in seeking input prior to making decisions. Understand where and why there are conflicting interests. Get below the surface to know how you can address real needs, not just stated opinions. You’ll be more effective when you have a solid lay of the land.

Make data your friend. As you learn the ropes, data will help you to understand the situations you encounter and will give you confidence in your responses.

Please by being pleasing. You don’t have to offer people all they want. Even when letting them know you’re choosing a different route, your attitude will make a difference. Be pleasant and caring, and clear. Don’t dodge your decisions, but deliver them with respect.

As a leader in a new role, it’s easy to be sucked into trying to please people. But take the long view if you care about your reputation. Your leadership will be respected when you earn it by actually leading, not just doing someone else’s bidding.

Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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