New Leader: “Do’s and Don’ts”

May I “Give You Something to Think About”?

I have had a recent strong run of inquiries from my clients to help them with New Leader Integration. Perhaps we settle for the aspect of “on-boarding”. We think we have it all wired and ready when we introduce the new leader, show them an office, be sure the VPN for the new company PC is ready…and they even have a chair to sit in! Off you go…

When in reality it is not “on” but “in” boarding. That the new leader offers behaviors to minimize the dance associated with new…and that the previous leader exercises some behaviors as well that lead to what is referred to as a “smooth transition”. With the recent “transfer of power” and the many angles to a new POTUS, I am reminded of some words of wisdom provided by Rodger Dean Duncan in a Forbes article recently. I think this is timely and applicable not only for the greatest leadership role in the world, but, also for each of us in our daily walks to be effective in our spheres of influence. Applicable from the Board Room to the Plant Floor.

So, let me “Give You Something to Think About” via Mr. Duncan, and pay particular attention to his last point as it just might make you think:

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about “a peaceful transfer of power.” It’s one of the hallmarks of our republic. In Washington and elsewhere across our country, some people are still protesting the results of the presidential election or demonstrating against policies they don’t like. And, let’s face, it, Donald Trump’s in-your-face Twitter bombs are the antithesis of conciliation. Here is some advice for the rest of us who will never be the leader of the free world. But we do have opportunities to lead, the chance to affect people’s lives for the better. Rather than serving in political office, we serve everywhere from the corporate boardroom to the little league field, from church callings to community volunteer posts. In terms of transition protocol, the rules of engagement are pretty much the same.

Here are my suggestions.

When you’re entering a leadership position:
1. Honor the past. Show genuine respect for your predecessor. You’ll likely make some changes, but be clear that you’re doing so because situations have changed and organizational needs have evolved. Repudiating the past will not win friends. Focus on the present. Build for the future.

2. Ask questions, lots of questions. You may be a seasoned leader. You may have great ideas. Your fresh set of eyes and ears can be a blessing to the organization. But don’t insist on always being the smartest person in the room, because you’re not. Before instituting wholesale change, listen and learn. Sometimes the best ideas come from the seemingly most unlikely sources—the new intern, the youngest person on the team, or even the veteran worker who was previously ignored.

3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You may be the leader today, but leaders come and go. The emphasis should not be about you. The emphasis should be all about the causes you champion and the people you serve. Focus on the tasks at hand. Establish a vision for progress. Engage with people, especially those with views different from yours. Challenge your own thinking.

When you’re leaving a leadership position:
1. Go gracefully into the night. You’re no longer the leader. Get used to it. Don’t try to live in the past. At least some of the deference people previously accorded you was due to your position, not your glowing personality. Grow accustomed to your new normal. When you were the leader, you may have thought in terms of “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” When it comes to leadership transition, think relay race. Pass the baton responsibly. Then get off the track.

2. Hold your tongue. Just as you would not have wanted your predecessor to second guess or criticize you, accord the same courtesy to your successor. Observe with interest, of course. But resist the urge to coach from the sidelines. If your opinion is solicited by your successor, offer your candid views. But do it in private. And season your advice with sincere encouragement.

3. Get on with your life. Hopefully, your self-esteem is not dependent on titles and position. Hopefully, you can thrive when you’re just part of the crowd. Hopefully, you can invest your energy and gifts in new ventures and fresh challenges. Transition can be invigorating. Rethink your priorities. Be intentional about new habits.

Remember: if nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.