There are three common approaches a new leader deploys when he/she meets the business team for the first time:
The Alpha – a boss who asserts dominance and leverages hierarchy to build credibility.
The Peacock – a boss who brags about past accomplishments to demonstrate worthiness of his title. Like the peacock, this type of introductory style is all about showing off how big and glorious the new boss’ feathers appear.
The Connected Listener – a leader who is authentically open to the team and who listens more than talks at the onset of the new relationship.
My experience as both the new leader, and as a member of a team, is that the Connected Listener will set the right tone and keep the team enthusiastically moving in the right direction. Not surprisingly, the Alpha and Peacock approaches have the opposite impact and create increased tension, anxiety, and distraction.
We all know first impressions are powerful moments. Frequently, the first moment is telling, and it’s likely that the stripes you see on the tiger are indeed the tiger’s stripes. In addition to the new leader taking accountability for a good first impression, it is critical for hiring managers and HR leaders to coach and guide the new leader through the opening introductions.
This article details the three types of first impression styles, and guides the new leader, the hiring manager, and the HR lead to make the first impression moment a positive force multiplier.
The Bright Side
New leader introductions are challenging moments. Everyone is on pins-and-needles. In this moment of tension, stress, uncertainty, and anxiety for the receiving team it is ideal for the new leader to be the Connected Listener. If the leader introduces herself and creates a connecting, and cooperating tone with the team the tension of the moment is replaced by positive energy and excitement. Now, trust has room to grow. As the positive vibes of this first impression spread across the team, the group may openly share the challenges and opportunities it faces. The teammates will look to become a partner with the new leader. Further, the group will spread the word across the organization that the new leader is the right person for the job.
The positive first impression of the Connected Listener helps reduce anxiety, focuses the group on business topics, and sets the foundation for cooperation. The decision by the new leader to be the Connected Listener returns immediate value to the team, the organization, and the mission.
The communication tip I give new leaders, at the time of team introductions, is they should overuse the pronoun “You” throughout the first and subsequent introductory meetings. By framing questions and comments using “you,” the Connected Listener creates an environment for the teammates to share feedback.
“Tell me what you do.”
“How are things going for you?”
“What would you say is working well in the organization?”
“How would you define success?”
“You” statements and questions will likely leave the team saying, “That was great, the new leader was really interested in us.”
Now, that’s a good first impression – relief and security replace anxiety and tension.
The Dark Side
When a leader chooses the Alpha or the Peacock approach when meeting a new team this boss will engender more tension, alienate him/herself from the team, and increase conflict. Nobody wins with these off-putting introductory styles. The team remains silent when a leader shows off his Peacock feathers and tries to build credibility by laundry listing all the great things he did in his career. The Peacock frequently deploys “I did this…” “I did that…” communication. By using the inward “I” pronoun the team is left to only listen and is not invited to share. Tension and anxiety have no place to escape when verbally blocked by the proud Peacock.
The Alpha approach also mutes early engagement. This approach signals to the team that hierarchy is everything. One common communication approach the Alpha uses in the introductory meeting is to frequently mention the mandate his hiring manager has given him.
“I told Bill when I was interviewing that I have seen situations like this before.”
“Bill asked me to do this.”
“Bill and I are very aligned on what has to happen.”
Leaders who introduce themselves by frequently name dropping their manager are using the Alpha style to assert hierarchical proximity to “power.” The message to the team is, “My proximity to the boss gives me power, and I’m closer to the boss then you are.”
The teammates that receive the Alpha’s message will see that hierarchy and one’s radius to power is valued by the new boss. Teammates will jockey for position, wanting to be the next-level Alpha within their peer group. A team of equals may transform into a hierarchical order as teammates seek to fly in the same orbit as their new Alpha boss.
Discontent and conflict grow soon after the Alpha introduces himself at the top of the food chain.
The Black Hole – The Alpha Peacock
If the new boss is The Alpha Peacock – he or she who both asserts dominance through hierarchy AND builds credibility by rattling off his proud successes – the band of teammates being introduced to their new boss may be in for a dystopian journey.
A professional friend shared with me her story of an Alpha Peacock encounter.
She shared, the new boss walked into a sales leadership meeting for the first time, the team was well-dressed and ready to put its best foot forward, yet the new leader, before even saying hello, pointed at each person and simply repeated out loud “overdressed” “overdressed” “overdressed.” A critique of the teammates’ clothes was this Alpha Peacock’s grand entrance. Anxiety, uncertainty, and conflict ensued throughout the terse encounter.
Later that night at dinner, the new leader doubled down on the leadership team’s dress. His message was “Why do you dress like this? Just dress how you would at home.” My friend described to me how everyone’s faces went white and the team chatter around the bar later that night was one of despair.
18 months after meeting the new leader, the turnover rate on the team was 90% and business results suffered.
The journey into decline started with the Alpha Peacock’s initial focus on peoples’ clothes rather than the things that really matter – connecting and listening.
Insights for Those Hiring New Leaders
Finally, for the hiring manager of a new leader and the HR lead assisting in the onboarding… You have the responsibility and opportunity to coach the new leader on how to deliver the best first impression. A 30-minute coaching session investment can serve as a springboard to early success.
Encourage the new leader to use the pronoun “You,” not “I.” Share the Connected Listener approach with the new leader. Finally, insure throughout the hiring process that the new leader’s style is attuned to connection and cooperation.
Good leadership inspires others to do amazing things. Do you see your new leader inspiring the team from the first hello?
Give the introductory meeting the time and attention it deserves. Too often these crucial meetings are overlooked as a “check the box moment,” and the real culture build happens later. By focusing on success in the first encounter between the team and new leader, the organization unlocks optimism and energy. Help the new leader and team avoid a Peacock or Alpha moment.
Introduce everyone to their new Connected Listener and enjoy watching the team flourish.