Important Tip for Leader Transitions

No leadership position is permanent. There is always a transition to a new role coming in the future. This article is about a mistake I have seen many leaders make in the transition to a new role.

Maybe this leadership tip is in a book somewhere, but I have not run into it yet. A mistake is made during the delicate time when a leader is assigned a new position and first moves into a new area interfacing with different people.

The first few days are critical and set the stage for how smoothly (or not) the transition goes. All signals sent during the first days and weeks are important as both the leader and the new constituents learn how to work together.

For illustration, let’s say our leader has just been moved from the Design Department into the Manufacturing Department. The new job is in a new physical area and has a different set of people involved.

The old leader has retired and left the scene, and our new leader has just brought in the first few boxes of possessions to set up his office. He is cordial to everyone and believes he is off to a great start.

This is an important job for the new leader, and he wants to carry on the fine team enthusiasm he was able to accomplish in the Design Department.

During the first couple days, he attends the normal production meetings. He frequently mentions how delighted he is to now be working in the Manufacturing Department.

When a manager is discussing a safety issue, the new leader offers something like this, “We had the same problem over in the Design Department, and what we did was set up a sub-team to come up with some excellent recommendations. That saved a lot of time because it could be done off line by a small group rather than have a bunch of meetings with everyone present.” People in the meeting listened intently and nodded appreciatively that there was a fresh idea.

The next day, the leader was discussing the financial closing information and seemed a little uncomfortable. He said, “In the Design Department we always just showed the data in chart form so everyone could grasp the information easily.” Two hours later he said “In the Design area we had special monitors to ensure the place was cleaned up well before we went home.” You get the idea.

All of the ideas and policies our new leader brought up during the first two weeks were logical and helpful. Nobody in the organization would dare question why they should do these things that the leader brought from the Design Department.

However, by the end of two weeks, this new leader was so far behind the eight ball emotionally with people that it would take nearly a year to get people to really respect and trust him. Why? He was just too forthright with his innocent suggestions for improvements based on his experience in the prior job.

There is an antidote to this common problem. When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public.

Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new guy quite a lot.

To refrain from offering suggestions based on one’s background sounds counterproductive, but it can go a long way toward knitting constructive relationships in the new area.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

3 Responses to Important Tip for Leader Transitions

  1. The blueprint for handling the change of leadership issue is covered nicely by the Entrepreneurial Operating System described in Gino Whitman’s book Traction. When a company’s mission and core values are well known and agreed to from the outset, a change in leadership is more like changing flight crews on a commercial airline. The plane takes off and lands as scheduled because everyone knows their role and responsibilities and is accountable for them. The system operates, as before according to the autbor because the right people are in be right seats.

    • trustambassador says:

      Thanks very much for the reference, Charles. I will look it up. I agree with the analogy in part, but not completely. The pilot and copilot of a plane usually have very little contact with the passengers. The culture of people onboard a plane is usually one of independent people absorbed in the hassles of travel and thinking about where they are going. In an organization, you have a society that is fully interdependent on each other for success. So when a leader changes position, he or she needs to become part of that culture quickly and effectively in order to have the entity succeed. would you agree?

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