5 Insights for a Successful Start as a First-Time Leader

Katrin Grunwald is a consultant for team and organizational development and an expert in coaching first-time leaders. She has put together her top 5 suggestions on how to ensure that you and your team are off to a successful start


Moving from team member to team leader is an exciting time in one’s career. Often there are insecurities such as, “Will I do a good job?“, “How do I best communicate with my team members?” and “How do I best manage the different expectations coming from my boss and my team?

1. Start with yourself

What kind of leader do you want to be? The more you know about your own values and what kind of culture you want to foster in the team, the better you can communicate these values to your team.

So here’s a practical suggestion: think about leaders that have impacted you in the past – positively or negatively. What values did they demonstrate that you appreciated? It could be things like respect, integrity, loyalty, etc. From those qualities, which ones do you want to adopt and how can you model them on a daily basis in the interactions with your team?

2. Put yourself in the shoes of the team

Before getting to know your team in-depth, take time for yourself to think about questions for your new team:

  • What makes the team unique?
  • What are the team members proud of?
  • What are the challenges the team is facing?
  • How would they like to be treated by you?

Really put yourself in the shoes of the team, even if you might not know them well.

Practical suggestion: after having thought about the questions yourself first, reach out to your new team and ask them.

3. Assess the context around you

The third self-preparation exercise you can do has to do with the context or environment in which you will take over your first leadership position. It’s useful to look at it from different angles:

  • Your role: why does it exist and what are the objectives and outcomes expected?
  • Your boss: what are their expectations towards you in regards to your tasks as well as your leadership? According to which criteria will they define your success?
  • Your peers: who are your new colleagues? Who can support you & your team in being successful?
  • Your organization: what is the current business situation? What kind of leadership culture exists & what are the expectations towards leaders?
  • Suppliers and customers: who are they? What are their expectations towards you?

Practical suggestion: questions and answers in this exercise will give you a good starting point to talk to the different stakeholders regarding their expectations. It will also help you find a balanced way to manage the expectations coming at you from those different angles.

4. Plan ahead

Think about which activities you want to do on your first day, week, and month as a new leader. This should include your self-presentation to the team, first one-to-one conversations with each team member and also a first-team workshop on how you want to work together.

Practical suggestion: of course there will always be spontaneous subjects coming up, but having a rough outline about what you would like to do on your first day, the first week, and in your first month as team leader with regards to leadership themes will make you feel that you are in control and can actively shape the start of your work with the team.

5. Be clear about your role as a first-time leader

Possibly you are now the team leader of your former team. Actively communicate with your team on what will remains the same (e.g. your engagement, your humor, team lunch, etc.) and what is different now (e.g. that you won’t be able to share so openly about certain subjects, sometimes you might be involved in company decisions earlier than them, etc.) and what questions they have regarding this change.

Practical suggestion: the more openly you address your team’s hopes and fears – as well as your own – the better off you are from the start!

These five insights show how much you have to be well prepared at the start of your first leadership role. It is definitely time well spent as there is never a second chance to make a good first impression!

Katrin Grunwald is the founder of The Globe Team, an organizational development consultancy supporting teams in working better together. Her Leadership Foundation Program, a live online coaching program, supports first-time leaders looking for guidance in the crucial transition from team member to team leader. It offers practical input via live online sessions, a community exchange with other international first-time leaders, and individual coaching. More information on www.the-globe-team.com.




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