Lead so they can follow

Leadership is a delicate balance, especially when you step into a new leadership position. Does your team follow because you are their leader in title or because they are confident that you are leading them somewhere they need/want to go. Navigating that tricky road is the challenge of a great leader.

As a new leader or as a leader in a new situation, it can take some time to build that kind of trust with your team. They will initially follow you because of title, but you want to start laying the groundwork for building their reliance in your leadership right away.

When I stepped into the position of General Manager of an under-performing bookstore, I was new to the position, new to the team, and even new to the city! I was definitely not in a position to instantly have anyone’s trust or confidence. So I got busy building it.

Because of the turmoil of the situation I was coming into, there was a definite distrust of leadership. The former long-time leaders had been fired, creating an atmosphere of suspicion. Rather than come in with guns blazing, I quietly stepped in and gently made my mark. The following steps helped me gain the trust of my team:

  • Meet your team: I was the outsider, so I needed to meet the team that remained, and discover their strengths, their challenges, and their loyalties. I either met with each person one-on-one or worked beside each person to introduce myself and get to know them. It is important to know your team on a personal level as well as be familiar with their business skills.
  • Learn the current culture: Culture is not something that can be overhauled easily. Before I could change what felt like a poisonous culture, I needed to discover what the existing culture included. Talking to my team identified many of the elements, and gave me a starting point to start turning things around. As in many cases, the negative culture turned out to be only on the surface. Improvements were possible.
  • Do the work: I am a servant leader, so my style is not to sit on high and give orders. Evidently, that was a change from the former leaders, so my team was surprised when I rolled up my sleeves and got busy. But that turned out to be the easiest way to gain their trust. By seeing me shelve, build displays, and help customers, they realized I did know about bookselling and were more willing to trust my guidance.

As I built my reputation of knowledge and hard work with the team, they started trusting me more and were willing to make the small changes I suggested. They could see results in the increasing sales and more satisfactory customer service surveys. When you lay a foundation of trust, your team appreciates you have their best interests at heart, and will soon follow your lead whole-heartedly.

When have you struggled in a new leadership position? What steps did you take to gain trust?