Leaders, what first attracts people to you?
It’s not your skills at the job. It’s body language—aka the way you stand, walk, smile, or even listen to people. It’s the first impression you make on people.
Estimates show that impressions about a person are formed in the first 7-90 seconds of seeing and meeting them, and last for almost half a year.
That’s why first impressions are so important, and even more so if you are a new leader. If your first impression is weak, it’ll discourage your team from following your lead. You could be the dream leader your new team wants, but if your first impression didn’t cut it – the rest of your efforts won’t matter.
Here are 10 ways to create a great first impression:
1. Enter with a smile.
Body language is the first thing people notice. Facial expression, tone of delivery, gestures, stance, etc., all matter a great deal when forming perspectives about one another. Hence, enter with a smile, flaunt a welcoming stance, and look confident while being humble. Mastering these tricks can help you make a good first impression.
2. Connect with your team.
Your new team is as anxious to meet you as you are to meet them. They have been hearing about this new leader who worked with big companies and drove teams to greatness. To connect with your team and make them comfortable, it is important that you begin with a warm smile, firm handshakes, and reassuring conversations.
Don’t jump into work in your first meeting. Instead, spend time building healthy conversations and relations. Even trying to build a personal rapport with the team, over a favourite sport or movie, can help ease things up, both for you and your team.
3. Listen, listen, and listen some more.
The first few weeks with your new team should be about them. After a few warm-up conversations, spend time understanding everyone’s job profiles, their skills, strengths, and pain points. Find out who works better with whom, and work on building strong alliances in the team.
Be prepared to face some challenges—unsatisfactory processes, internal rivalries, demotivated staff, etc. Sometimes, you will be tempted to solve the problems right-then-and-there. Don’t. Just listen and assimilate the information. Use this time to show your team you’re a good listener.
As a regular practice, huddle with your team in their bay (working area), instead of calling them to your cabin. This will make them feel comfortable in their space and around you.
4. Build trust.
Why do you think thousands follow the footsteps of leaders like Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and Indra Nooyi? It’s because they believe in the leader’s vision. These leaders have built a certain degree of trust in their employees that drives each one of them to give their best to the company. Your team will evaluate you based on your competence, character, consistency, cordiality, and care for them. One way you can show them you’re there for the long run is by taking complete responsibility for your team’s actions, good or bad. When your team sees your commitment towards them, they will trust you and go above and beyond to make your vision a reality.
5. Hold back on problem solving.
Most new leaders lose their team’s trust when they pick and point problems in the organisation. Even worse, they constantly mention how things were different in their previous company. If you want to build a long-term rapport with your team, start on the right foot. Companies will always have problems, and you will get time to show your problem solving skills, so be patient. Focus on learning about the company and its employees in the first few weeks while identifying strengths and advantages.
6. Share knowledge and experience.
Leaders who want their team to like them often make the mistake of being ostentatious. Your team will be interested in learning from your experiences, but they do not want to hear you blowing your own trumpet. Hence, share knowledge and experience in ways that make you feel more human than a superhero. Talk about the challenges you faced and the hurdles you overcame with humility.
7. Be exuberant and confident.
Leaders must inspire and positively influence their teams throughout their careers. Exuberant leaders (those who are always filled with joyful enthusiasm) have a higher chance of creating a positive influence than those who lack the energy. Why did people instantly light up when Charlie “Tremendous” Jones walked up on stage? Why did they sit through his long sales discussions? Because Charlie Jones had an exuberance second to none. He made boring sales topics interesting for people and inspired them to be just like him, a tremendously successful and confident salesman. As a leader, your first impression should make people want to smile and flock to you. And then you must maintain that energy throughout your career. Easier said than done, but that’s leadership for you.
8. Use your EQ.
Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard states that "your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them, and how to work cooperatively with them.” Leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ) are more likely to build strong first impressions than others, as they are better at empathising with their team members and at understanding and motivating their team.
9. Lighten up; be humorous.
The first day at a new job can be stressful, even for seasoned leaders. So, instead of jumping right into work, spend time connecting with people. Tell jokes, funny stories, and embarrassing incidents. People instantly warm up to a person who knows how to hold their attention, ever better when it's with humour.
10. Be authentic.
The problem with leadership skills is that learning them isn’t enough; you have to practice them many times. Many prospective leaders read numerous books and articles, attend expensive executive management programs, and go back to their organisations promoting themselves as the new-age leaders. However, a lack of first-hand experience in leadership makes them more prone to making mistakes and creating bad first impressions. Instead, be true to yourself and practice your leadership skills often. You'll have a higher chance of delivering positive results and building strong and favourable first impressions.
Best of all, leaders that make great first impressions find it easier to build credibility and trustworthiness. Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor at the University of California, conducted a survey to identify the factors that make people credible and trustworthy. He discovered that people agree on a person’s credibility and trustworthiness 38% of the time by voice tone and tempo, 55% by body language, and only 7% by the content the individual shares with others. Therefore, first impressions are paramount.
Suggested Further Reading: 7 Storytelling Tips for Effective Leadership by Akhil Kakkar in YourStory.com.