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A Harvard Professor Says Not to Follow This Leadership Advice

Here's what you should do instead.

Alistair Berg / Getty Images
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

When stepping into a new role, especially if you’ll be managing others, it’s normal to feel a little unsure of yourself or what to expect. That’s why new leaders are often told that their first leadership stint should focus primarily on listening to others rather than speaking their own voices. And if so many of us hear this advice, then it must have some validity — right? 

Not according to Sarah Lewis, Ph.D., a Harvard professor and the founder of the Vision & Justice Project. Lewis appeared on Brené Brown’s podcast, “Dare to Lead,” and when asked about leadership advice, Lewis had an interesting take on this frequently shared insight: 

Brené Brown: What is one piece of leadership advice that you’ve been given that is so remarkable that you need to share it with us, or so crappy that you need to warn us?

Sarah Lewis: One crappy piece of advice I’d say I received was to spend the first 90 days listening in the context of leadership in entering a new environment. And I would reframe it to say, spend those 90 days listening to your inner compass and your inner voice to determine why you got there in the first place — don’t silence yourself in that sense. I’d reframe that often given advice.

You can take Lewis’s advice to heart today by practicing one of these Microsteps. They’ll help you balance your voice with the ideas and perspectives of your team, and find compassion for yourself and others when stepping into a new leadership role.

Right now, identify one part of your organization that you can help change for the better. 

As a leader, you have an influence over many parts of the employee experience, from hiring to onboarding to daily meetings. Choose one area that you think you can improve and make as inclusive as possible.

Swap a suggestion for a question. 

While as leaders we often feel like we need to have all the answers, asking a question is a simple, powerful way to help others share their experiences and stories.

Each day, find one small way to give that draws on your own talents.

Many of us hold back our natural gifts, thinking they don’t apply to work. Think about a skill you have and find a way to share it with someone else.

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