3 Common Leadership Mistakes Made by the New Sheriff In Town

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Originally posted August 7th, 2012

You’ve just assumed your post in a new leadership position and your instincts tell you to make your mark, and to make it quickly.

You want everyone to know, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Image via iStockPhoto.com

Effective leaders will implement a 90 or 100 day action plan, perhaps to focus on:

  • Learning everything they can about the organization
  • Assessing strengths of key personnel
  • Building early momentum with one or two small “wins”

Unfortunately, some leaders will instead make one of the 3 classic blunders of an ineffective new sheriff. In your new role, avoid these blunders at all cost:

1.   Blasting the past
Inexperienced leaders will sometimes make the mistake of trying to establish their credibility by criticizing or ridiculing elements of the organization’s legacy.

Don’t fall into this trap. Remember, even if there’s legitimacy in your criticism, people in your organization devoted themselves to those earlier efforts. Your criticism could sting some of your key people.

2.   Making quick, poorly thought-through changes
In an earlier post I wrote about some very careless changes I introduced early in my leadership.

Inexperienced or insecure leaders will often make ill-advised quick changes aimed not so much at improving the organization, but at trying to establish themselves as a “brave, bold leader”.

In most cases, such changes bring nothing more than confusion and instability to the organization.

3.   Making bold, unsubstantiated predictions about the future
Vision; yes.

Wild predictions; no.

It’s a fine line between the two, but an important one. “New sheriffs in town” tend to blow their credibility early on by making promises about the future that are more fanciful than visionary.

Inspire your people by assuring them that, together, you are charting a new, exciting course. But don’t undermine your own leadership by promising results you cannot realistically deliver.

During your early days in a new leadership position it’s natural to want to quickly establish your mark.

A tool that proved to be a great help to me was Michael Watkins’ book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.

So move forward boldly, but with wisdom and humility. Otherwise the “new sheriff in town” might be run out of town by an angry posse.

What have been your key learnings in the early days of a leadership role?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Willow Creek Association. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave & Willow and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

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