A week has often been said to be a long time in politics, but it can feel incredibly long if you’re left at the helm of the country when a significant incident occurs. You only have to think back to this time last year when Liberal Democrats Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, was left to lead the country during the most devastating riots London had seen in 25 years.
In any case, for all leaders stepping into a new role or into their boss’ shoes, whether for a week or 20 years, making the right impression is crucial. People will be watching closely, ready to pass judgement, looking out for signs of long-term success or failure.
Whether you try to make a big impact or just aim for ‘steady as she goes’ will depend on your personal leadership ambitions. In Hay Group’s experience of working with leaders across all sectors and organisational sizes, we consistently find that leaders who make a rapid and effective impact in their role and set the course ahead for smoother waters concentrate on getting two factors right: creating clarity and setting standards. As a result, both their team collectively and the individuals within it know where the organisation is going, what they are expected to contribute and why, and to what level.
Even in adverse and unpleasant working conditions, Hay Group research has shown that teams with high levels of clarity and standards are more effective and productive than those without. Leaders faced with a new team often make the mistake of trying to focus on creating team harmony as their first task, but the result will be just that – a harmonious, but not necessarily productive, team.
Leaders should also prioritise getting to know their team so that they can understand which leadership styles they need to draw upon to create an environment that brings out the best in their people and achieves their company’s vision. For example, a directive leadership style – ‘directives, not directions’ – has proven to be effective in times of crisis, but if the style continues during convalescence, employees may begin to look to competitors for a different style of leadership.
Theresa May might not be looking to leave a lasting impact on the nation, or even on the cabinet this week, but it is clear that for leaders new in post, impressions count.
Graeme Yell is a director at the Hay Group.