Start Line or Finish Line? A Leader’s Day 1

We hire or promote leaders, and it’s viewed as arrival, “the end” rather than the beginning. It’s an accomplishment to land a new role – we think this is the finish line, when in fact it’s not. 

On this momentous day, “You have arrived!” This is what it feels like as a leader to land a new job, a promotion, a new gig. The messaging from the organization reinforces this sense of accomplishment, it feels like crossing the finish line. Elation. Relief. 

We cheer them over this finish line of accomplishment on landing the new role: 

  • “Congratulations! Your skills will be a great fit with our team.” 
  • “Welcome! We are confident that you will be successful.” 
  • “Great to have you join us. We look forward to working with you.” 

It’s interesting to even consider the human physical and physiological experience of these statements. The response to any of these in your “congratulations email” is a celebratory fist in the air “Yes!”, followed by a deep exhalation of relief and relaxation in the body, “ahhhhhh yes”. Sounds, looks and feels like a finish line in the human heart, body and mind, not a start line. A start line might be more an anticipatory tensing of the body “Yes, Let’s go!” and an excited fast breath in. 

Here’s the kicker. Your brain takes guidance from your body, your physical state and reactions. This is really important: approximately 90% of messaging goes upwards to your brain to receive, only 10% goes down to send. So, is it possible that in that “You have Arrived” strong deep exhalation of relief, we’re conveying that it’s ok to park here? That’s possible, and it’s only an educated hunch. 

As a result, we are accidentally, systematically stalling out leaders’ growth because we put them at the finish line, not the start line. From Day 1. We do this formally, and informally in organizations starting with the welcome letter or congratulations letter whether for an internal or external hire.

Our hope in organizations is that all our leaders, new or not, want to grow and realize that it is imperative that they grow in order to augment performance over time (theirs and others). We want them to get into this new role and get going; we want them to “start” and know that continued growth is imperative. 

However, in my experience with leaders worldwide, this is anything but true – it’s not a start line. We stall them out at moment 1, and then as consultants, trainers, organizational development people, we try to “push start” leaders to grow, like a stalled car. It often feels like pushing a rock uphill, trying to get people to fully engage in learning, pause the day-to-day “doing”, let alone apply new skills and thinking. Rather than putting them in a place of “rest” and then having to try to move the person “at rest”, we could simply take the person, put them in a place of momentum and help them continue to move, starting at Day 1. 

Bottom line: Leaders are the limit that teams and organizations can’t exceed. If the leader\’s welcome process reinforces the finish line on day one rather than their growth, this simultaneously limits their growth and performance in their role. 

Instead, we could leverage the existing momentum of the new role “Welcome” to keep it going so that they may understand and act on the importance of growing their leadership, from day 1.

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