Leadership transitions are critical moments in organizations of all sizes. When handled well, stakeholders and employees at every level feel confident about the years to come and look forward to a fresh approach. On the other hand, transitioning an executive poorly can result in a major dip in morale and the ripple effects throughout the organization. Although the process is different for every company, there are a few tips you can follow to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Don’t Be a Lone Cowboy
It’s not uncommon for new executives to feel pressure (both internally and externally) to prove themselves as quickly as possible. This narrow focus can lead to unintended poor behavior (like overreacting to criticism, intimidating others, and micromanaging) and a blind spot for other important issues in the organization. Quick wins are possible, and even desirable, but not at the expense of strong relationships and respect for leadership.
Combat this impulse by bringing others into the transition and identify realistic goals that demonstrate the entire team’s plan for success. This is also a great opportunity for new executives to learn more about their teams and their capabilities. It’s also important to set the right tone during this kick-off project. Delegate all of the work you normally would so that individuals know what to expect with future projects and give others an opportunity to shine.
See Beyond Good and Strive for Great
New executives who have risen through the ranks internally are particularly susceptible to this common challenge, but any leader can fall into the trap of focusing too much on operations and not enough on the strategic changes that can take a company from good to great.
Allow yourself the time and space to focus on external factors that influence the organization and not just the internal elements of the business. Broaden your perspective by participating in industry networks and peer groups. The technical and operational requirements of running a business will not go away, but if you can successfully carve out time to also look externally, the organization will ultimately benefit.
Identify and Fill Personal Knowledge Gaps
It’s easy for new executives to feel like they must always project confidence and expertise. While it’s certainly true that these traits are necessary in a leader, humility and the desire to learn are also essential.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and the only way to find out is to ask others. These can be other people in the organization, peers in your field of business, personal mentors, and coaches, or even industry reports. Even CEOs can benefit from leadership development, and participating in ongoing learning will set the tone for others in the organization to do the same. Identifying knowledge gaps also provides the opportunity to cultivate a team with complementary skill sets.
Understand Expectations and Set New Ones
It is critical for new leaders to know what is expected of them and by whom. Knowing what expectations employees and other stakeholders have from day one will help you meet them. However, a leadership transition is also an opportunity for the new executive to define his or her own set of standards.
Kick off the leadership transition with the declaration of a new era for the company and let people in the organization know what they can expect. Be as detailed as possible by outlining roles and responsibilities, communicating intentions, and making it clear who is accountable for what in the organization.
Make a Plan and Stick to It
You make detailed plans for product launches, software rollouts, and other transitions in the company, so why not do the same for a leadership transition? Without a plan, new leaders can fall into the traps of focusing on quick wins or being distracted by issues that should not be prioritized.
Create a 90-day transition plan that includes practical elements such as which teams to meet with, what you want to communicate to them, and what decisions need to be made in that time frame. In the medium term, identify one or two larger goals you want to achieve within a year or two. Lastly, create a long-term business strategy that looks three to five years out. Involve others in the development of each of these plans to grow early engagement and to help fill in the knowledge gaps you don’t yet know are there.
Successful leadership transition takes effort, but with a little planning, a lot of thoughtfulness, and strong leadership skills, the organization can benefit from a strong vision and a clear plan to achieve it.