“Beware of who greets you at the door!”

This strange bit of advice was given to me by an experienced leader whom I trusted immensely. It was early in my career and I had just accepted by first assignment at the head of a nonprofit organization. It was a most conflicted organization, known widely for its history of dysfunction stretching back as far as anyone could remember. I had only begun a week or so prior when this colleague invited me to lunch to offer some of his longstanding, and hard earned leadership wisdom. It was indeed timely.

“What do you mean,” I asked, “beware of whom?” The lesson he taught me that day was one that saved not just my job at that agency, but my career. Here is what he taught me that has proven true over and over again in the decades since. . .

When you are a new leader in a place, it is common for some of your very first “greeters” to come bearing a hidden agenda, my wiser colleague said. They have not really come to greet you, but instead they are approaching you hoping to charm you into being on their side. Since you are so new there, you won’t have any context or any sense that there are any “sides” at all. They know that. Their charm offensive is to win you over as a friend hoping that once that relationship is established – and this is often done by doing you some extreme favor or great kindness – that when the next battle comes, you will naturally side with them.

Don’t buy it, my colleague advocated. You are everyone’s leader. You cannot afford to play favorites or take sides simply due to friendships or kindnesses extended when you were new. You are called to lead the whole organization. Leaders do what is in the best interests of the mission of the organization and what will propel it towards its vision of a preferred future. They are not blindly loyal to the first people that greeted them.

And, never forget, these greeters want to put you in their back pocket. They want you to be “our man” or “our woman”. Be wary of their hidden agendas and, sometimes, diabolical machinations. Take their deal and you will have been bought; and there is no coming back from that deal with the devil.

I am forever grateful that my sage colleague passed along that timeless bit of wise leadership advice. Now as I pass it along to you, I trust that it might save you, like it saved me. And, be sure to pass it along likewise.

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