When we’re new to a role (or a relationship) it is natural that we try to only put our best foot forward, we try to position our selves in the best possible light. This is normal. It is also hugely dangerous. False expectations in jobs and relationships can cause huge adjustment periods later and can derail you completely.  As a teacher, I was told by a much older and wiser headmaster to: “start strict and then relax”. Once you have set boundaries and, if you wish, established control, you can always “chill” a bit. If needed, you can revert to a “stricter”, or no-nonsense stance without putting your staff off balance because they will be used to this mode of operation.

This, however, is not true of the inverse.

I regularly see new members of a team or young managers either dive headfirst into solving the problems no one else has been able to solve for years or worse, trying to get their new boss and their staff to “like them”. This is could prove to be disastrous for your position. Truly effective teams are not based on relationships defined by “liked or “not-liked”. Even ones that on the surface pretends to be based on “friendships” are usually superficial and laced with falsehoods. Your colleagues and your staff are not your friends. Nor do they need to be. You can be friendly, sure, but more importantly, you need to be able to communicate the value they represent, respect them and be respected in return.

Often the more shy ones tackle this problem of finding their feet by trying to overcompensate for their uncertainty by being “powerful or decisive”. Unfortunately, they more-often-than-not, come across as abrasive or even bullying, which unleashes a whole new set of troubles.

The American president, Theodore Roosevelt, in a letter to Henry L. Sprague, on January 26th, 1900, wrote: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” This is as true now as it was then. If you tackle a problem or, inevitably, become embroiled in a conflict of some sort, the last thing you want to do is swing and miss. To establish your “big stick”, you must be clear as to what success looks like in relation to your teams’ output and their behaviours. You must be willing to and capable of having tough, yet respectful conversations early on, and you must be unflinching in your enforcement of the rules, your values and your expectations.

This is true not only for your staff, but also applies to you. It is an unquestionable fact that our actions speak louder than our words. You must learn to master your leadership shadow. If you are oblivious to your unspoken impact on your team and cannot module your leadership shadows as needed, you will derail your own agenda quickly.

So, take a breath. Be clear as to what you want, “speak softly but carry a big stick” and most importantly, start like you plan to finish.

See you in the trenches.