If you want to be the leader of a group, you will have to stand out. Standing out means being different: speaking up, challenging the status quo, making the group think differently ― yes, being visionary too.
Yet, to do this, you have to risk breaking apart from the group. Groups have been well researched and, in order to protect their identity, coherence and survival, they have to bring conformity.
When someone new enters (or tries to enter) the group, the natural approach is to socialise the new member. There is nothing inherently sinister in this feature of group life. You could say they are being helpful by showing the new member how to fit in and survive.
The real challenge arrives when you aspire to leading or significantly changing the group, especially when you are a newbie.
Standing out means not fitting in. Research clearly demonstrates that, in order to stand out, you first have to fit in.
When you join, subconsciously at least, the group members are attempting to get you to see the world from their perspective. If you keep challenging them and their way, you are heading for trouble ― especially if you keep referring to how you did it at your previous company. You might get away with it a few times, but if you persist, it will really start to annoy them. It is tantamount to accusing them of being inferior. Watch out, you’re on their territory now!
But this is oh so difficult to avoid. It is a combination of needing to prove value as well as ambition in a new role and mixing in a little ego ― it is little wonder that so many people get off to a bad start when they join a new group.
If you are joining the group as their new leader, you may be tempted to think it is different. Nope. They may be a little more tolerant and polite, but a leader stomping all over their previous good work is going to build up bad feeling and trouble will likely erupt before too long.
Best practice suggests that when joining a new group you should:
- Settle in and let them get to know you.
- Let people socialise you — at least to a certain degree. Yes, you join the party and get involved in group activities.
- Try to decode the rules — write them down if you can.
- Develop a clear strategy to stand out, but only once you’ve got to know how they operate.
- Stand out gradually, coaching them to your way of thinking.
But that is only the best practice approach. Aside from that, you’ll need to judge the best way for you in the circumstances. Arriving as the crisis manager, saviour or innovator will all modify the steps above, but only do this if you have the power and the oomph to overcome their shock and rejection.