The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

How to Be a Successful New Leader

iStock_000007246830XSmall(This article is part of a series originally published in Japan by ALC Press English Journal, and is written in “Global English”. CLICK HERE to see the accompanying video, spoken in “Global English”.)

QUESTION: “I’ve just been promoted to leading a new team and don’t know where to start. What should I do first?”

ANSWER: Congratulations on your promotion! While a strong start is not a simple matter of following a recipe – we’re dealing with human beings, not baking cookies – here are four key areas important to a new leader’s success.

Build Trust. Your #1 priority is to build trusting relationships with each person on your team. The first questions people have about a new leader are “Who are you?” and “Why should I follow you?” Schedule a “Meet the New Leader” meeting and share highlights of your career. But don’t limit yourself to professional details. Talk about what matters to you. Reveal your authentic self and appropriate details of your personal life. This will help your team see you as a human being, not just “the boss”. Allow plenty of time for questions. If no one asks a question you can ask “What would you like to know about me?” and “What are your expectations of me?”

Listen. As a leader you don’t have to have all of the answers. You can learn a lot from your team. Schedule face-to-face meetings with each of your people. Gather their perspectives and get their advice on how you can best serve the needs of the team. You’ll also benefit from meeting with people your team needs to work with to be successful. Don’t let your organization’s boundaries limit you! Meet with suppliers and customers, and anyone else who interacts meaningfully with your team. Most importantly, remember that you have two ears and one mouth and use them in that ratio!

Establish Agreements. Effective teams take time to discuss what matters most to them, and establish clear agreements about how they work together. These agreements are guidelines that define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. It’s not enough to achieve results – the Lehman Shock taught us that! The way people behave while achieving those results matters, too. Put these expectations in writing, and make sure everyone, including yourself, follows these standards of behavior.

Clarify Why, Who and What Before How. Help your team clarify WHY your team exists, WHO you serve, and WHAT are your goals and measures of success. Figuring out HOW to be successful before clarifying why, who, and what, is like jumping into a taxi and shouting “Go! Go! As fast as you can!” before telling the driver our desired destination.

Business is a team sport. Leading a team is both a great honor and an enormous responsibility. The most effective leaders don’t wield their power, they serve their team with humility and respect. Good luck, and enjoy!


About the Author

Kimberly Wiefling is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, "Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces", and the founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, a scrappy global consulting enterprise committed to enabling her clients to achieve highly unlikely or darn near impossible results, predictably and repeatedly. Her work focuses on keynote speaking and workshops on practical and sensible business leadership and project/program management scaled for the size of the company and the project. She has worked with companies of all sizes, including one-person ventures and those in the Fortune 500, and she has helped to launch and grow more than half a dozen startups, a few of which are reaping excellent profits at this very moment. She spends about half of her time working with Japan-based companies that are committed to developing truly global leaders. Kimberly holds a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics from Wright State University and a M.S. in Physics from Case Institute. She spent 10 years at HP working in product development project management and engineering leadership. She worked with several startups, including a Xerox Parc spinoff where she was the VP of Program Management. In 2001 she launched her consulting practice and never looked back. She holds a certificate in project management through UC Santa Cruz Extension, where she is an instructor in the Project and Program Management Certificate Program. Kimberly spends about half of her time facilitating leadership, communication and execution excellence workshops for leaders of Japanese companies committed to becoming truly global. Thousands of people have viewed the hysterical video documenting the final phase of completing her book at You can reach her via email at
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