The First Steps to Successful Leadership…

Everyone wants to make their mark when they step up to a role where leading people is involved.

Pursuing success is fine, but it is easy to become overly focused on the outcome and forget about building important relationships with your team and colleagues. Acting in this way will almost certainly have negative consequences on you as a leader, it will damage relationships long term. Driving people too hard will have the inevitable effect on motivation. In not building strong relationships with colleagues, people who work for you and senior management you will almost certainly diminish your ability to influence them, this is vital if you want to do your new leadership job well.

As a leader remember that the majority of your successes will be through the successes of others. The leader’s role is to make sure that their colleagues are inspired enough to work towards their vision and do their jobs well under their leadership. But in order to accomplish this, you must have influence, or the power to sway or motivate people to follow your lead, support your ideas, and prioritise the projects you care about and are responsible for.
Throughout our careers as business leaders and adviors, we’ve seen that it is possible to focus on both results and relationships — in fact, the best leaders manage to do both.

A few thoughts on how to do this:

Start your connections with people by building a foundation of trust. The company has trusted you with this new role and they believe in your capabilities as a professional who can get things done.

As a manager however you are less of a ‘doer’ and more of an ‘enabler’ helping others to succeed. Everyone needs to trust your authenticity, your willingness and ability to empower them and your empathy as someone who cares about them, their growth, and the company’s growth. By using these techniques those you lead will be open to your influence and only then will other leaders in the company trust your vision.

Prioritise meeting one on one with each of your direct reports and peers. Use this time to get to know them and ask questions like: What does success look like for you? What do you want to be known as? How do you measure progress? Their answers will help you better understand their motivations, aspirations, and goals.

Also be clear on your own goals and expectations so that your direct reports understand what success in their roles looks like and how they contribute. How do they fit into the larger company goals? You should provide them a roadmap for this. Also be sure to ask them: Do you have what you need to achieve your goals? How can I help? They need to know that you are looking out for them, respect their contribution, and that you will recognise them for a job well done.

Advice similar to this applies to meeting with more senior stakeholders within your business. Come prepared with an ‘elevator pitch’ — a succinct vision of what success looks like for the projects or initiatives you are asking other people to participate in.  When you are presenting to others, be clear about your plans, as well as what your aspirations are as a manager and people developer are. For example, you might say: ‘’My vision for this project is simple. We should strive to:

  1. Deliver, on-time and within budget, meeting the goals we identified at the outset.
  2. Be customer centric and establish a new test-and-learn approach that will allow us to pivot as needed.
  3. Develop our ability to adapt to the changing landscape.’’

Be sure to ask these senior executives: What are the biggest risks and opportunities you see? What recommendations or advice do you have for me? Is there anything else I might be missing?

By acting this way, rather than causing concern, the asking for advice and the sharing of a degree of vulnerability will help you earn their respect. They need to know you value their expert opinion, are looking out for their interests, and will share the success. With this shift, their level of trust increases, and so does your influence as a leader.

People at all levels want to know that they are relevant. Nothing sends a stronger signal than a person who is open to hearing and learning from the perspectives and opinions of others. If someone works with someone who cares about what they have to say they will be far more willing to express their opinion.

To create an engaged team that wants to share their opinions, you first need to manage yourself. As a leader, your role has shifted from problem-solver to influencer. You no longer need to have all the answers, your job is to enable and empower others to solve problems and listen to other ideas and opinions.

Listen more than you talk, especially when engaging in potentially difficult conversations. To be more present during meetings, put your phone in silent mode, and focus fully on the person you are speaking with. Ask clarifying questions like: What do you think of this approach? Is there another way to do this? Avoid using statements with “But” (For example ‘’But I’m not sure how this impacts x”), as this negates what has been said. Instead, formulate your concerns as a question like “Have you considered the impact of y?” or “How would you scale up that solution?”

It’s important to also know that you don’t have to have the last word on everything. The pursuit of a quick win might lead you to make many decisions on your own. However, creating a culture that allows your team to express their ideas and propose suggestions will lead to better solutions. Asking for your team’s opinions, being open to other alternatives, and listening actively will allow you to understand and expand your perspectives. This sends the right signal in relation to your leadership style. It allows others to feel valued and engaged, thereby increasing your influence and effectiveness as a leader.

To persuade and influence people, you need to win both hearts and minds. How you communicate with your team is key to accomplishing both. Most of us have a preferred method of communication that is specific to our style and tends to favour either the heart (like telling a story to make your point) or the mind (like providing lots of evidence to support your point). But you need to craft a message with your audience in mind to address their specific needs and ensure they hear what you are trying to say.

All too often, we’ve seen people focusing on the content they are sharing rather than on how they are delivering it. The reality is not everyone is motivated by feel-good messages or data alone.

Action to Take.

When getting to know your new boss, management team, or direct reports, ask them, “What is most important to you?” or “What does good look like to you?” Work out their behaviours, and the values behind those behaviours. You can start by asking: What drives you? What inspires you? What are you most proud of? Once you understand their motivators, you can customise and connect your message to those motivators and your influence will increase substantially.

For example, if your boss has a reputation of a storyteller and big-idea thinker, they may want to hear first about innovative ideas and approaches that haven’t been done before. You should craft your message as a story that highlights out-of-the-box solutions and the overarching strategic impact it will have on the business. You should still cover updates on the financial impact and tactical execution of the project you are pitching to give them confidence everything is on track. But put yourself in your boss’s shoes and ask yourself: Is there a new creative way to tackle this problem? What is the big idea or story behind this process?


The pressure to make an impact and a great first impression by delivering results and quick wins will not disappear. However, the approach you set out to achieve these wins should shift to the people you work with. Building relationships and learning how to influence downward, sideways, and upward is pivotal to your career success. It will put you on a path of sustainable performance, while those who interact with you will feel trusted, included, connected, and engaged.

If you need some help with taking your first steps into successful leadership, get in touch with us at or call us on 01162325231.

The Tinderbox Team