Today’s business culture has nurtured what I think of as an action imperative; an almost knee jerk need to “do something”, sometimes simply for the sake of doing something. But, this compulsion runs at cross purposes with successful onboarding (see the “Ready, Set, Reflect” process in blog two of this series) which is why I encourage new leaders to initially shift from getting results to a place of intentional learning.
What I mean by this is being inquisitive and immersing yourself in every aspect of your organization. This is important even if you have been with the company for some time because now you are there in a different role and, as such, must view it through a different lens.
A huge side benefit of embracing this type of learning is genuine listening, which can result in increased credibility and influence further down the road. Acknowledging that intentional learning is a skill many professionals haven’t practiced since they were in school, here are three steps to help you define a learning agenda.
Step One: Learn About The Past
Too often, we are eager to tear things down before we learn the reason for their existence. When you don’t honor the past, you risk disrespecting people who have been with the company a long time. Instead, identify the organization’s historians and innovators and give them time to share their insight. When you do this you will get an invaluable look at the company’s past performance, important milestones and history of change, all of which can help inform future issues you will need to address.
Step Two: Look At The Present
We have talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Having a thorough understanding of the company’s vision, strategy, people and processes is the best way for you to lead from a place that has the complete picture in view. You will also inspire confidence in your team when they know you are leading from this system wide perspective.
Step Three: Ask Questions About The Future
Leaders must always look to the horizon, seeing and anticipating future challenges, opportunities, barriers and resources. Referring once again to The First 90 Days by Dr. Michael Watkins, here are some questions that will serve you well as you look to the future:
- What’s the biggest challenge the organization is facing or will face in the near future?
- Why is the organization going to face these challenges?
- What are the most promising, unexploited opportunities for growth?
- What would need to happen in order for the organization to exploit these opportunities?
- If you were me, what would you focus your attention on?
As you go through the steps of the learning agenda, be sure to look beyond people within your company. Vendors, customers and referral sources can offer a wealth of information, not to mention a unique “outside in” view of your company. I also encourage you to journal about your learnings throughout this process. Having a place where you can write and reflect on all the perspectives and opinions you gather is incredibly instructive. And, don’t be surprised if you learn a little about your own truth along the way.
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