3 ways to avoid new leadership failures
Monday, April 01, 2019
Recently, three distraught managers from three different organizations called to ask my advice with the same issue. Here is what I heard from them.
"I think I need to leave my company. They just hired a new CEO who thinks she knows it all and is treating us like children. I haven’t worked here all this time to be totally disrespected."
"Can you help us? We have a new CEO. Everyone is unhappy. He brought his own team and we’re being taken over. We thought we were creating an inclusive culture, but we feel excluded now."
"I moved to this organization because I liked the way leadership empowered us to develop our employees and departments. The new Vice President hasn’t made an effort to get to know us. We’re afraid to make decisions now. He stays in his office and issues edicts. Are any of your clients looking for senior directors of engineering?"
New senior leaders were brought into each of these organizations with devastating consequences. They may have been hired for the great results they got in their old organizations, but they were all on track to lose their best people in their new organizations.
Does this sound familiar? Have you experienced this in your organization as an employee or as the new leader?
Three Practices New Leaders Need to Employ When Replacing Other Leaders
1. Do homework 101
No matter how much second- or third-hand information you’ve received from the board of directors or the people who brought you in, you need to do your own research.
Study the history and culture of the organization. Spend time hanging out, meeting people, and asking them what they like about the organization. Develop relationships with people in advance if possible. One of the people who called me said they had almost no warning that they were getting a new CEO.
2. Go along to get along
When I was growing up in New York, this was a common expression. It meant when you go to a new environment pay attention, observe and don’t try to take over or make changes right away. It’s part of being culturally intelligent.
Ask questions, be curious and learn the norms. Watch how people interact and do the same. Once you get to know people and establish trust, you can influence and enlist employees to help you make necessary changes.
Coming in, ordering people around the first week, and trying to force your vision (no matter how revolutionary) is going to result in resistance, low morale and fear of change. Sometimes you must slow up to get the right support.
Once your team connects with you, it will be easier and faster to be respected as the leader. The more you force your ideas, the more they will resist and the less will get done. Ultimately, it will reflect poorly on you and your ability to lead.
3. Share the why and ask why
Before implementing new policies or processes, let people know why and how they and the organization will benefit. New leadership is usually stressful because it takes the organization to the unknown. People in organizations get anxious when they feel a lack of control, don’t have enough information, and worry about the future.
When employees have information, understand how they will benefit and the reason for change, they will be more self-reliant, more likely to participate and more willing to support you and your leadership.
Spend most of your time in the beginning asking your employees what they need from you to do their best work, what best practices they want to share, and why they love working in the organization. Ask who they go to for help so you can find out who the influencers and informal leaders are. Develop relationships with those people and get their input, observations and solutions.
Although this article mainly addresses leadership change in business, these practices apply to academic settings, sports teams and community associations, too.
If you’re replacing another leader of any kind, you need to ask yourself, "Is it more important to be seen as the big boss, take charge and give orders, or is it more important build trust and create an environment of mutual support and collaboration that will ensure lasting success even after you’re gone?"
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