Why do sports fans love opening day?
Because on day one, hope springs eternal. The brand-new season brings with it infinite potential, renewed passion, and belief in new possibilities. No bubbles have been burst. Yet.
Sports fans aren’t the only the ones who experience first-day syndrome. When employees join a new team, they’re also excited for opening day. They would love nothing more than for this to be the high-performing team that they’ve been waiting for.
This first day is a natural window of opportunity. Great leaders of talent seize the moment. They recognize that their team is hungry for hope. They craft ways to immediately build on this foundation. Poor leaders don’t even see the window, and in their blindness, the window slams shut.
Here are 10 things that great leaders do on day one.
1. Bring Enthusiasm
There’s a reason that we win hearts first and minds second. People are primarily social animals. People are extremely influenced by the emotions of others—especially yours, as their leader. If you want people to be enthusiastic, you have to model it.
2. Show Up Prepared
A kick-off meeting isn't just a meeting; it's your one chance to make a first impression. It also sets the tone for everything else that follows. Time spent in boring business meeting mode detracts from your leadership and the team’s potential results. Design the meeting from start to finish in advance. Know your desired outcome.
3. Put Relationships Before Tasks
All business is personal. Prioritizing building relationships shows that you recognize the inherent value each person brings. People don’t want to be seen only as functional doers. Investing in relationships pays huge dividends. Ultimately, people will go the extra mile for people they know, like, and trust. Invest some time in getting to know your team members.
4. Make Expectations Obvious
People are good at many things. Mind reading is not one of them.
You come to the table with lots of preconceptions. Don't make people guess what those are. Give your team a map: Divulge your expectations, assumptions, and preferences. It’ll save time and energy later, and your team will be much more likely to reach your desired destination.
5. Make Communication Two-Way
Leading isn’t a monologue—it’s a dialogue. Your expectations from item number four shouldn't be handed down in dictator-like fashion. Find ways to co-create norms for how the team will operate. The more included people feel, the more likely they’ll be to take ownership, and move from compliance toward commitment.
6. Share the Team Vision
This may seem obvious, but many day one leaders skip this step. They’re so eager to jump into the task (the what) that they forget a critical step: Start with why.
People are most motivated when they have a clear sense of purpose and meaning. When sharing the vision, create opportunities to get input so that the team is invested in making the vision a reality.
7. Set Communication Norms
Communication is the lifeblood of every team and organization. Given it’s so important, take extra time up front to establish norms of communication. For example:
- How often should the entire team meet?
- How often should subgroups meet?
- What's the best method for communication?
- What are our expectations for timeliness in replies?
- Are late nights or weekends off limits or within reason?
Clarifying these norms will allow the team to elevate their overall level of performance.
8. Ideate Intelligently
With a dynamic team, innovative ideas may get thrown around the room. Don't let the great ideas bounce away. Appoint a note-taker to capture ideas, insights, and actions, and have a plan to follow up afterward to explore the ideas further.
9. Close With Actions and Next Steps
Don’t let your meeting suffer from the "What did we just agree to do?" plague. Ideas and concepts don't move themselves forward: they need people who do something with them. Ask questions such as, "How can we turn this idea into reality?" or, "Who will do ___? By when?”
10. Remember the “Thank You”
Feeling appreciated is a powerful ingredient of well-being, and a key driver of engagement. Start thanking on day one, and then thank early and thank often. People don't do their best work because they have to. They do it because they want to. Taking the time to follow up and appreciate someone personally sends a very clear and energizing message. (Bonus points for handwritten notes.)
With these 10 tips in mind, you’ll be ready to knock it out of the park on your first day.