Recently former secretary of state Colin Powell joined with some other former Secretary Of State occupants to weigh-in with his thoughts about what Hillary Clinton needed to do when she assumed that role. His thoughts would be valuable for anyone moving into a new leadership role.

First task, he said, was to get the department staff fully on her side. He made the point that leadership and management style would be as essential to her success as would the ability to create strong foreign policy, deal with the crises which are sure to come her way, and/or travel the world continually.

I’m often asked by new leaders of all levels, what they should do first. I think Powell’s recommendations are just as valid for anyone who is going to have a team reporting to them. Too often, as people go up the ranks they start to believe that the skills and style that got them there will be enough to ensure ongoing success again in the future. Wrongly, they believe that maintaining their technical or other job specific skills is their first priority.

They forget that, for leaders, their priority is – and always will be – people.

When we have a leader who shows that (s)he is interested in our well-being and success; we are far more likely to go the distance when asked. On the other hand, those leaders who are more-focused on the fundamentals of their job responsibility, and who spend little or no time with their team members; are often met with indifference when the time comes that they need something extra from the team. And that time always comes.

Leaders, to some extent, build “credits” with their team members. They do that by showing that they are truly interested in them, that they want to help them succeed, and that they realize their own success is greatly affected by the team as a whole. With a strong psychic relationship between them and their team, they can ask for a greater contribution. And, they’ll usually get it.

Other leaders who’ve been more focused on the specifics of their role such as technical skills or market development will find it difficult, or impossible, to leverage the strength of the team when it’s most needed. In effect, the leader has effectively reduced the size of his/her power base. They did that by not showing every person on the team that they are important and can make a direct contribution to the success of the entire initiative. No amount of last minute or too-late exhortation will get them heated up and working harder at that stage. When the power of team is needed most, it will not be available.

The time to start molding a strong team is on Day 1. Great leaders get this. They don’t postpone for some “emergency” because they realize there is always going to be another “emergency” waiting just around the corner. So they take the time required at the outset. It’s a smart plan.


Leadership Coach