What should a brand new leader or manager do upon joining a new organisation?
The short answer is to listen, according to retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former commander of Central Command who led troops for more than 40 years.
Following a talk at the University of California-Berkeley last month where he lectured on a variety of topics, I asked the general what advice he would give to a young lieutenant just joining his unit. By the time they may have reached Mattis’ office, they would have completed college, officer candidate selection, and infantry training, but most were brand new to leading Marines.
“I would make very clear the first thing they should do is get with their senior enlisted and their commanding officer [to] understand the situation the unit faces, where it’s been, where it’s going, and find out from the commanding officer what it is he wants them to do,” Mattis said. “Take in all the data, all the information, then make [your] own decisions.”
In other words, he advises leaders to join their new organisation with an open mind, listening and learning how it operates before figuring out how to move forward.
Winning over hearts and minds is also important.
“The whole point is to win not only the trust and respect of his young infantrymen, but another word is the affections, because when a unit is being shot up, what keeps them going is their belief in one another and that they won’t let each other down,” Mattis said.
“Affections are not the same thing as popularity but … that is the bond that holds everyone together.”
Although Mattis was speaking about the military, everything he said could apply to leadership in any organisation.
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