What Every First-Time Boss Needs to Know to Thrive
As a leader, you should never underestimate the value of quiet confidence.
This is the first in a series of columns on leadership—and living an active, health-minded life away from the corner office—from Strauss Zelnick, the co-founder of ZMC, a leading media-focused investment firm; and the chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, one of the world’s largest video game companies. Zelnick is also an avid participant in #TheProgram, a NY-based fitness group.
When I was five years old, I announced, out of the blue, that I wanted to run a movie studio. Amazingly, 25 years later—and just four years out of graduate school—I actually did it. I was named president of what was then the largest independent film company in Hollywood. From day one I knew I was in over my head and I knew I’d make a bunch of mistakes. But I was also grateful for the opportunity, I learned quickly, and I got a few things right. So if you’re finding yourself thrust into a leadership role for the first time—and you don’t know what to expect—here are my lessons for you:
Listen. It sounds simple, but if you come in with guns blazing, you’ll be subject to the criticism that you don’t know what you’re doing. In truth, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t. But, as Mark Twain said, “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
So listen to your new colleagues in one-on-one discussions. Talk as little as you can. If you’re in “listen only” mode for the first few weeks, you’ll begin to look like a leader as you develop some knowledge of the enterprise—and what the best route ahead is.
Leave your past job in the past. In order to succeed in a new job, you have to get beyond some parts of the skill set that got you there. If you succeeded by being a great analyst, don’t try still to be that analyst; now it’s your job to have a great analyst on your team.
Get some professional help. I’d urge you to consider hiring a coach who’ll give you a rigorous standardized test to determine your leadership deficits. Trust me, you may be awesome, but you have some. Know what they are and you can watch out for weaknesses—and take steps with your coach to make improvements.
Never point fingers. When things go wrong—and believe me, they will—don’t point fingers. You’re in charge now, so take personal responsibility for failure. Naturally, if someone makes repeated mistakes, he or she is probably in the wrong job and you have to address that. Allowing your colleagues to take measured risks—and supporting them when things don’t go as planned—is the only way you’ll make real progress over time. Oh, and when things go really well? As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “there is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
Share your success and you’re guaranteed to have plenty more.
Ed note: Before starting ZMC and becoming CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, Zelnick was president and CEO of BMG Entertainment and president and COO of Twentieth Century Fox. The first film he green-lit when he became head of a movie studio was Dirty Dancing, which for many years held the record as the highest grossing independent film ever released.
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