Leadership Checklist for New Leaders

Start strong, get equipped and get going!


I’ve been blessed with opportunities to work with many different kinds of teams over the years. Big and corporate, small startups, church and nonprofit – they all have pros and cons. An industry publication interviewed me recently and asked me about the first things I always do when I take over a new team. I thought that was a pretty useful question, so I’m sharing my list here and looking for yours in the comments or on Twitter @wadamj.

12-Step Program for New Leaders

#1 – Assess your team – Get in there are understand how your team operates, where their skills are and what they struggle with. You’ll need this context to help them align moving forward! Learn more about hiring the right team here. 

#2 – Understand the vision and goals of the company  – Make sure you understand the goals of your company and your team’s role in contributing to those. You’ll need to be able to communicate these clearly to your team. Are you ready to do this?

#3 – Practice communicating vision and goals in a way that makes them real to your team – You need to practice relating those goals and the vision for the company to your team. Make sure you can relate it to their own needs and goals.

#4 – Work with team members to understand their goals and align them to company vision – Make sure you understand each person’s goals on your team. You’ll need to make sure to align their goals to company goals and help them see their vision alongside the vision of the company. More about serving your team in my post on servant leadership. 

#5 – Create a vision for your team’s impact on company goals – Create a plan for your team for the next 90 days and first 6 months. Set reasonable check-in timelines, so your team knows when they need to reach key milestones.

#6 – Create a method for self-assessment – Create a way for your team to evaluate themselves and determine how they need to improve. This is as simple as a list of short questions focused around their goals to help them keep the right focus across their goals.

#7 – Set up 1:1’s and create a plan for each team member – Make sure you’re not leaving your team to progress in a vacuum. Make sure you have regular check-ins scheduled. These should not be just project updates, but should be driven by progress on goals, relationships and roadblocks.

#8 – Get teammates working together to spur productive collaboration – The best way to get teams communicating is to get them working together on something. Find opportunities to make this happen. This is definitely a priority!

#9 – Define outcomes and recommendations for achieving them – Once you have a handle on the team, and they have their goals, work on backing down from specific expectations. Instead, focus the team on desired outcomes and the guidance for achieving them. This means less managing and more leading. You need to trust your team. Trust, verify and guide. Learn more about outcomes in my post here. 

#10 – Set goals for yourself – Don’t spend all your time on your team. You need to determine what your success measurement looks like and set goals for yourself. Communicate some of these to your stakeholders and team to have them hold you accountable. More on creating your leadership checklist in my post here. 

#11 – Create a method for assessing yourself – Make sure you outline your goals in a way that you can self-assess each week. I recommend a series of 5-10 questions to help you reframe your perspective on your week.

#12 – Make sure you’re regularly communicating with your stakeholder community – With all of this work happening, you need to make sure to let people know. Your stakeholders, bosses and peers will help guide you as you move forward. Make sure to talk to them and over-communicate before your under-communicate! This is another top recommendation in my leadership checklist. 

I hope these 12 steps are helpful for you.

What are your priorities when you start a new leadership role?

There are many, so let’s get a good discussion going in the comments or @wadamj.

See you out there – Adam

Are you making the #1 leadership mistake?

Good news is that you can fix it today


Have you ever noticed that when you get busy, things fall through the cracks? Have you ever “over prepared” for something or “had too much on your plate?”  This common scenario for leaders popped up on a call between myself and one of the people I’m mentoring, whom we’ll call Cal. Recently Cal had to reschedule two of our meetings, which is a big red flag for me as a mentor. I wasn’t upset that he needed to reschedule. Life happens, but two in row means too much life is happening. If he’s rescheduling with his mentor, then what else is he not able to focus on?

The next day I was driving down the sunny Florida highway and was finally able to get Cal on the phone – he was practically out of breath.  After exchanging pleasantries I asked, “Cal, what is going on? Either you have too much on your plate or you’re at the gym, and I called you at the office.”

He replied, “I’m fine. It’s a busy time of the year at the office, and I just need to get better at multitasking. My assistant is out for family leave, and I haven’t had time to interview the temp, and I have a stack of decisions waiting on me, and I’m trying to weed through the research to make sure I don’t send my teams down the wrong path. I’m going to work through lunch and cancel my other meetings this week and next to get caught up.”

What is Cal doing wrong?

We’re going to pause the story right there to see if you caught what Cal was doing wrong. You might say, “Cal gets an assistant? I don’t get an assistant, and I’m at least that busy.” Or, “Every leader has to make a lot of decisions,” or even, “Leadership comes with a lot of work and lot of hours. Why doesn’t Cal know that and know how to deal with it? Perhaps he’s not cut out for it?”

As his mentor, I heard different things. I feel a need to remind him about some of the rookie mistakes many leaders make. He was, in fact, making the most common leadership mistake – attempting to multi-task.

The Power of Delegation

Not many people are impactful leaders 10 hours a week and spent the rest of the week in leisure. Leading in any organization is a busy and demanding role. Leaders need to focus on what is most important and learn to delegate. This is something Cal and I have been working on. He has been improving, but I believe in this scenario, under extreme stress, he is holding on instead of letting go and asking for help.

I reminded him this needs to change today. We made a list of all the “busy things going on in the office” and who could help take them over. I challenged him to make those changes and assignments before the end of the day, being careful to make sure the team knows what he expects so they don’t work toward the wrong outcome. I talk specifically about outcomes and how important they are here. This has the double benefit of freeing Cal up while equipping, empowering and engaging the people on his staff.

How to Prioritize as a Leader

Don’t accept that putting off important things for other important, but more pressing things is just “how it is.” Why isn’t Cal prioritizing? Well, as a leader it’s difficult to tell people around you that their task doesn’t need your attention right away or even at all. That gets easier when you set priorities on what should be on your plate and what should not. When you do this, you’re less likely to make that critical leadership mistake.

Do this in conjunction with your team to make sure you have their perspective and aren’t operating autocratically. Leaders need to remain focused on serving. Cal needs to mercilessly prioritize and delegate his tasks that don’t require his full attention. I challenged him to make a list of his important items and break them into three sections:

#1 – Critical 24/48 hour response needed

These items require Cal to act on them quickly. For example, getting forward movement on his temporary assistant and making key business decisions.

#2 – Needs review and feedback

This includes business that is not moving forward because people are waiting on Cal’s insight. Only items which require his personal and professional insight should go in this pile.

#3 – Does not require Cals’ attention (easily delegated)

These can be cleared quickly. They go in the same list as the previous section. I told Cal to give these to his team with a quick note or a focus area that he’d like to see them act on.

Multi-tasking is a Myth

He, and others, may thing that he can solve all of these by being a better multi-tasker. This is likely the biggest myth in productivity and the biggest mistake a leader can make! There is no such thing as multi-tasking. This is something leaders without focus convince themselves passes for productivity. The problem here is that multi-tasking not only hurts your productivity, but it’s making you dumber.

Dr. JoAnn Deak, a noted educator and psychologist, talks extensively on this subject and reminds us that the human mind can only focus on three things at any given time. Working on many short-term tasks and jumping between them actually makes our brains lose their elasticity and capability for deeper thinking. So that analytical ability that got you into the job? Multitasking erodes that skill the more you do it!

Fifty years ago Dr. George Miller also noted that we can only process three multidimensional items in our brain’s channels at any given time. If this was true in the 50s without smartphones, then what are we doing to ourselves as leaders now? Dr. Miller’s research (and the research of others like Dr. Deak) credibly show that we are losing 15-30 IQ points when we multitask. In fact, the University of Sussex went so far as to report brain damage to certain parts of the brain. The research on what multi-tasking does to children is staggering.

I shudder when I think about the amount of time I spend trying to multi-task when I get busy before I remind myself to stop and prioritize.  This is and other rookie mistakes here. We have only made it worse over time. I wake up thinking about 20 different things. I need to make an effort to shrink that down to a more manageable list of priorities. I make extensive list on a personal Kanban tool (KanbanFlow.com) to keep myself focused and on track. It works well for my team, too!

Research also shows people who multitask too often also have much lower social and emotional intelligence factors (EQ).  I notice this when I interact with leaders in my organizations. The ones who are very “busy” often struggle to create deep meaningful impact.

3 Steps to Staying Focused and Getting Things Done

So how do we stop making the multi-tasking mistake. I can’t solve all your individual scenarios in one blog post but I can tell you some of the things I do to help me. There are many popular methods out there for prioritizing and focusing such as the “Getting Things Done” method. Many people find this successful. I’m often juggling initiatives for several organizations. My professional life, personal family life, and charitable time, together, result in a pretty busy life.

Step 1 – Use a tool to help keep you organized

I use Kanbanflow.com to help me keep things prioritized and in focus. You could start with post it notes, as long as you have a system. I like something I can keep handy on my phone to put things in whenever I think of them or have a meeting. Make sure you’re focusing on the highest return on leadership investment. 

Step 2 – Reduce distractions

Email is the worst business productivity tool around. I only check my email three times a day (if I can help it). I have turned off the pop-up notifications on my devices for email and social media, and I tell all the important people in my life that for me email is not a form of critical communication.  If it’s important make my phone ring or show up in person. Otherwise I’ll get to your items as soon as I can. I schedule work time for email and other items, and I don’t give up that time unless it truly is an emergency. That is my time to respond and serve those who need me, but didn’t need me urgently.

Step 3 – Delegate, delegate and delegate

I meet once a week with my direct reports to find opportunities for them to take things off my plate, which gives them new and interesting assignments and brings them closer to the business. I set due dates and define outcomes. Then, instead of managing the process from start to finish by myself, I remove roadblocks and remain strategic in my role, which allows more time for the priorities in my day.

Back to Cal. I closed my conversation with him by reminding him that to create something excellent, he needs to focus. No one ever multi-tasked something great into existence. “If you’re not after greatness either personally or professionally, then why did you get out of bed this morning?” I asked. He understood and was already summoning folks into his office to get our plan rolling. I’m excited to speak to him next week to see how he’s progressing. I know he’ll do great things with the time he’s going to get back!

How many things are you doing right now? Are you on a conference call and reading this? I appreciate you reading, but stop and come back later!

Where is multitasking hurting your focus?

Share it with us in the comments or on twitter @wadamj. I’ll have more on Cal in the future. He’s an amazing work in progress!

Until then – see you out there – Adam




The Four C’s of Successful Onboarding

How to onboard employees the right way


I have been part of several great organizations in my life. They were great for me for a variety of reasons based on the time in my life that I was a part of them. The one consistent factor was they all focused intensely on employee onboarding and development as a continual life-cycle. As a leader it’s easy to leave onboarding to the world of HR paperwork and first day lunches with the boss, but why are you bringing this new person on in the first place?

I know it’s because you want them to make an impact. The first thing you’ll ask about their progress is if they are already working on something productive or not. Your priority shouldn’t be paperwork, but producing results. So how do we build results-producing machines who are equipped, empowered and engaged?

If you want to launch new team member success both right out of the gate and over time, you need a plan. Work with HR as needed but find the right way to own the success of your people.  That means you need to focus on the four Cs of a good onboarding process: Compliance, Clarification, Culture and Connection.

4 levels of successful onboarding

Research shows that there are four primary levels that an onboarding experience can reach. 


These are the basics, making sure the employee has access to resources and basic training.


Make sure that the new hire understands their role and their goals.


Clue them into the traditions and cultural nuances of the company.


This is the highest level of onboarding! It’s plugging them into the team, assigning new hire buddies and introducing people across the organization.

Best Practices for Effective Onboarding:

Successful onboarding should start as soon as the offer letter is signed and go beyond their probationary period. It should be a progressive journey between the company and new hire!

Create an employer to employee expectations “contract” Let them know what to expect of you and how best to hold you accountable for supporting them.

Reduce time to productivity – Do everything possible to reduce the amount of time it takes to get your new team productive. This reduces your risk and increases your insight into their capabilities!

Build relationships with management – Make sure that your plan includes helping the new hire build relationships with management across the organization. More on building your plan here.

Expose employees to internal social networking and communication channels – Get them connected, so they are not looking for resources or ways to communicate with people. You will have people in your teams that are better at this than others, so pair them up!

Experience common scenarios and interactions for their role – Think about some role-playing to simulate some common scenarios in which the new employee will find themselves. This can help them navigate the situations in a safe way and understand both your expectations and how you’re going to be able to support them.

Onboarding is an investment, so put thought into it. The way you start your team is important to their success.

What are your best onboarding experiences? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter @wadamj.

See you out there! – Adam