Wins and Wows: Scoring Big in a New Leadership Role

by Sarah Holtan, Ph.D.


You’re in a new position of leadership. You don’t have a clue what you’re supposed to do. Did someone really think you were qualified for this?!? You feel like a walking, talking fraud and experience an out-of-body feeling each time you’re introduced by your new title.

Yet, you have been selected. You are qualified. Now is the perfect time to set your leadership agenda and firmly establish your credibility by racking up a win and a wow.

A win is a successful completion of an expected goal, objective, target, task, etc. This is the type of activity that you are supposed to do as the leader, true enough, but it still has an impact. Some examples include staying within budget on a project, filling a hard-to-fill position with a qualified and likeable person, completing a significant yet unfinished project, solving a big problem, productively chairing a committee or event, or implementing an effective and user-friendly process. Conversely, the absence of a win is also noticeable and not in a good way!

Deborah’s work as a judge is a classic example of a win (Judges 4). Her role as a judge forced her to make tough decisions and she did so with extreme integrity. Deborah gained the respect of all through her personality, ability to influence, and a spiritual concern for those she led. Even after the battle was over, she didn’t forget her primary role was to encourage people to follow God.

A wow is creating a buzz over accomplishing something unexpected yet highly applauded. It’s highly visible and affects others positively and personally. Wows typically fall into the general categories of exceeding peer or supervisor expectations via personnel management, receiving some limelight for a popular outcome, or securing a financial reward for others. Some examples include receiving external recognition (e.g., an award), negotiating a pay raise for a team member, securing funding for an “underdog” project, identifying resources for long-suffering team members, restructuring a dysfunctional department or group, or bringing an all-star into the team. Perhaps surprisingly, letting go of an employee or volunteer (e.g., firing, demoting, reassigning) can also be a wow. If the person’s work style has caused morale issues among the team, or she was underperforming in her duties, or it was long overdue to release her for other reasons, you will be the hero. It’s actually a relief and morale booster for the team when this type of person is released. It could be a relief for the person who was let go as well.

The story of Abigail in I Samuel 25 exemplifies a wow. Her husband’s mistreatment of others almost got him killed but her quick thinking and actions saved his life. She marshalled a great triumph, yet did so quietly and humbly.

Your goal is to rack up as many wins as realistic and strive for at least one wow during your first few months in the leadership position. These first few months are an ideal time to take some risks. You don’t need to play it too safe. The others will give you a pass on mistakes and missteps, for about three to six months in the new role. Longer if you were hired or recruited by someone held in high esteem. If your strategy is to sit back, observe, and wait months to take action, you need to consider whether fear is

holding you back. If no wins or wows are accomplished during that first few months, others may begin to wonder if you’re just there to perpetuate the status quo. It’s possible you may have a very good reason to wait to make changes. However, the inaction comes at the risk of negative perceptions of your abilities and long-term potential to succeed.

One reality check is that achieving wins and wows might cost you political capital along the way. For example, imagine you negotiate a pay raise for two of your underpaid direct reports. Even though their salary is finally on par with the marketplace and organization, you start to hear not-so-subtle disapproving messages, which sometimes come in the form of a joke. Your team is now the highest-paid in the whole organization, so lunch is on you! Or other types of messages that clearly “put you in your place.” Because politics is a reality of any work, church, school, or community group, it might be prudent to make some early deposits in your political capital bank account to compensate for when you need to draw from it. Interestingly, wins and wows can earn you political capital, too, once you demonstrate a pattern of them with integrity.

Deborah and Abigail showed us what wins and wows look like. They followed God’s commands and took action. Yet, they were more concerned for the people they served than their individual successes.

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Posted on: May 13, 2019, by :

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