Much has been written through the years about the critical importance of the first 90 days – the make-or-break period when new leaders will either set themselves up for success or lay in place the ground work for their eventual failure.

What happens in this 90-day period that is so pivotal to a new leader’s success? How can three short months determine one’s leadership destiny?

Last year, during a leadership development session for a Fortune 500 company, one of the participants was discussing the new leader who had recently taken over the division that he work in. He summed up what happens in the first 90 days when he made the following statement: “I just got a new boss a few weeks ago. I’m still trying to figure out whether he is going to help me or get in my way.”

In the first 90 days, your new team, your peers and your boss all form their dominant beliefs about who you will be in your new role. Will you be an improvement on the previous leader? Will you implement broad, sweeping changes? Will you be a coach, a mentor or a tyrannical dictator? Will you be part of the solution or part of the problem?

In the 1960s, Oxford University professor Dr. Peter Watson pioneered the “psychology of reasoning.” In his studies, he found that the human mind looks for congruence with its dominant beliefs, tending to make note of what aligns with what we believe and discounting what does not. He referred to this tendency as a confirmation bias.

In the early days of a new leadership role, everyone around you is forming his or her first impressions about you. These beliefs will either work for or against you for the duration of your tenure, because people will make mental note of all of the things you do that are congruent with their beliefs about you, reinforcing those beliefs. They will also usually discount any actions you take that are inconsistent or incongruent with their beliefs. For example, if an employee believes that you don’t listen to them, their confirmation bias will cause them to notice all of the times you fail to listen – and not to notice when you do listen.

The most important thing leaders must be aware of in the first 90 days in a new role is how their words and actions are shaping the beliefs of the people around them. If they shape their beliefs the right way, they will pave the road to success. If they shape them the wrong way, they will create rough path, fraught with resistance.

What strategies can you use to ensure that you make the right first impressions and shape the beliefs that will lead to your future success? Asking yourself the following questions will dramatically help.

1. What Do You Want Your New Boss to Believe About You?

Managing and leading up is every bit as important as managing and leading your direct reports. Sooner or later, you will be asking your new boss for support, resources or guidance. If they believe the right things about you, it will make a significant difference in their willingness to help you. You want them to believe:

  • You are a key team member.
  • You are critical to their success and the success of the team as a whole.
  • You are a strategic thinker and a tactical executor.
  • You are exactly the type of leader they need on their team.
  • You are a go-to resource for them.

To shape your new boss’ beliefs, here is what you will need to know:

  • How do they measure their success?
  • What are their goals? How can you help them to accomplish them?
  • What are their challenges and frustrations? How can you help to alleviate them?
  • How do they like to be communicated with?
  • What are the most important activities they would like you to focus your time and energy on?

2. What Do You Want Your New Team to Believe About You?

The relationship you develop with your direct reports will have a huge bearing on your future success. Teams follow leaders whom they trust and believe in. They are driven to succeed when they can clearly see and understand the vision, goals, strategies and activities that will help them win, both professionally and personally. You want them to believe you have a vision and a plan. To shape your new team’s beliefs, here is what you will need to know:

  • Where do we want and need to go as a team?
  • What are the challenges and obstacles that we must overcome to reach our goals?
  • What functional and dysfunctional relationships do we have with key business partners?
  • What are the goals and aspirations of each member of the team?
  • What does each team member desire to learn or improve in?
  • What are the biggest ways you can help each member of the team?
  • Who would they like you to be as a leader?
  • How do they like to be communicated with?

3. What Do You Want Your New Internal Business Partners to Believe About You?

Few business units work entirely autonomously – learning and development especially. In most cases, we rely on internal business partners to provide us with the support, information and resources that are critical to the success of our team. Therefore, collaboration and partnering will play a key role in your future success. You want internal business partners to believe:

  • You are committed to being a great partner to them.
  • You are there to help them overcome the challenges and obstacles that restrict their success.
  • You will listen to their concerns about working with your team.
  • You will follow through on your commitments.

To shape your new business partner’s beliefs the right way, here is what you will need to know:

  • How do they measure their success?
  • What are their goals and objectives?
  • What are their challenges and frustrations regarding working with your team?
  • What are the three most important ways your team can help them succeed?
  • What is the best way to communicate and create accountability for partnering better moving forward?

When taking on a new leadership role, there is no shortage of activities to focus upon. Achieving team goals, corporate reporting, fighting the seemingly never-ending string of fires, responding to emails – these are but a few of the tasks that will quickly fill your daily schedule. Taking a step back from reacting to them and strategically looking at how you are shaping the mindset of the people around you will, ultimately, be the most important thing you do in your first 90 days.