Winning Early, Winning Big

My friend Eric Sickler likes to call me on the phone and says, “Hey, Bob, it’s Eric.” He then records my response to a question about marketing or strategy and posts these audio ambushes to iTunes.

Recently he asked me, “What are the first things a new president should do?”

This is an important question and I appreciated the opportunity to crystalize my thoughts one more time. In doing so, I realized that the “first steps” apply not only to presidents, but also to almost any leader at any level—new deans, new VPs, new directors—anyone that has a new staff and needs to win early and win big.

Here are my top five.

First, create a small, cross-functional working group to identify and prioritize the major issues that must be addressed. Chances are, your predecessor left you with a pile of unmade decisions on her or his desk. Creating this ad hoc will do three important things. First, it will help create a sense of urgency. Second, the work product should be a list of the key issues you need to address. Third, it will help you identify who has talent, and who merely has a title.

Second, identify the small team that actually addresses the issues outlined in your strategic précis. This team may be your cabinet or it may be a blend of cabinet, faculty, and others. However, recruit this team with the mission in mind: to address the key issues in the shortest time possible. Avoid overthinkers. Your goal at this point is action with reasonable precision, rather than no action with greater precision.

It is important to clarify your role here. You are the leader, not the doer. As leader you are an assembler of talent, an enabler of talent, a protector of talent, and a rewarder of talent.

Third, as your team addresses the key issues, work to build internal credibility. Go out and meet faculty, especially faculty leaders; especially those faculty leaders whose support you need. You must be seen as engaged, approachable, and a listener. The first step to building this credibility is to invite select individuals to join the working group that identified key issues.

Fourth, spend serious time with your board chair (if you are a president) or your boss if you are VP or somewhere else down in the organizational food chain. You must understand their goals, their expectations of you, and the degree to which they wish to be involved. You must also clarify the frequency and type of communication they prefer. Remember, they put their reputation on the line in hiring you. At every opportunity, make them feel good about that decision.

Finally, build and commit to an aggressive internal communication strategy. Continually remind people of the key issues before you, the decisions you have made, the actions you have undertaken, and the results (hopefully successes) you are garnering. The more information you share the more likely you will have the benefit of the doubt later on down the road. And remember, there’s always a later on down the road.

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