Avoid the Mighty Mouse Trap as a New Leader

When people step into a new leadership role—especially for the first time—their instinct is to jump in and start doing things right away. Frank Crowson, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Guitar Center, calls this “Mighty Mouse Syndrome”: you leap into action, proclaiming “Here I come to save the day!”

This instinct typically comes from a place of insecurity: you want to prove your value to the team. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the worst things you can do when starting with a new team.

Your first job as a new leader is to know what NOT to do. Odds are good that you know far less about the project or process than the people you’re supposed to be leading—after all, they’re the ones who’ve been doing the work all this time. Showing them the “right” way (AKA your way) to do things, or worse, taking over their responsibilities, tells your team that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. (And need we remind you, micromanagement is one of the three top reasons people leave a job.) So before leaping into the fray, make sure you’re aware of your own biases and take pains to avoid these leadership mindsets:

  • The Knower: They have all the answers and can’t accept outside criticism, or they completely defer to others’ opinions.
  • The Victim: They blame failure on things they can’t control, rather than look for ways they can positively affect the situation.
  • The Sucker: They think they have to compromise their values to get to the top.

The one thing you should be doing more of is listening. And we don’t mean the kind of listening where you’re checking your phone at the same time. Instead, focus on what Twitter calls “360 listening,” where you actively focus on what people are saying and how they’re saying it. To improve your 360 listening skills, try the following:

  1. Look people in the eye. We’re not suggesting you turn this into a staring contest, but make it clear that they have your undivided attention. Don’t check your phone, or work on a laptop, or keep glancing behind them to see if someone else has walked in the room.
  2. Create space in the day. Set aside time on your calendar to check in on your team. It’s so easy for this to fall off the calendar when deadlines are pressing, but it’s the only way you can really learn what’s going on within the organization.
  3. Ask more questions. Show genuine curiosity in their work and how they solve problems. The better you understand their work and process, the more helpful your suggestions will be—and the higher the odds they will actually be accepted.

Ultimately, your goal is to give your team more autonomy. (That’s right—you should work towards making yourself redundant.) Independence relieves stress and gives employees a greater sense of purpose, which can translate to lower turnover rates and higher job satisfaction. And when your team can truly say they did it themselves, congratulations—it’s time to move onward and upward to more complex teams and challenges.

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Avoid the Mighty Mouse Trap as a New Leader
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