Caution: Student Driver (How to use the label in a new leadership role)

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Caution: Student Driver

When you level up as a leader or join a new organization, you get about 30 days of grace.

Here are a couple of ways you can use your newbie status to your advantage.

✅ Schedule 1:1s with as many people as you can meet. People know you don’t know them, so these requests won’t be a surprise or cause confusion. Connect with them personally, learn how they serve the organization, and how they relate to each other. You’ll build the personal capital you’ll need later when things get hard. Remember names and faces, and find a way to track any personal details you discover, such as hobbies, interests, and family names.

✅ Ask all the dumb questions. People don’t expect you to know things yet. Be careful, though. Try to translate “Why” questions into “How” or “What” questions to avoid putting people on the defensive. For example, instead of, “Why does the process work that way?” consider, “How well does that work for you?” or “What impact does that process have on (some quality measure)?” or “What kinds of changes, if any, have you considered for that process?” Most importantly – remember the answers. People usually don’t mind answering dumb questions, but they don’t like repeating the answers.

❓You might be tempted to use your newbie status to propose an improvement and get a quick win. But the “Caution: Student Driver” sign you’re wearing may get in the way of acceptance for even the greatest ideas. There are many stories of leaders who bounced in, changed things, then left. Teams are wary of proposals that come too soon. If your meetings and questions have revealed a painful and widespread problem that you know how to solve, a quick win can be to your advantage, but be careful of consuming too much personal capital too quickly to implement your idea.

When used strategically, your “Caution: Student Driver” label will give you the grace to build the relationships and learn the facts you’ll need to be successful.

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