The act of transitioning is never an easy one, especially when it is transitioning into a new leadership position. New executives are expected to move forward with their own agendas and make their mark within as little as 18 months.
However, it is often forgotten that these agendas need the support of key people, and as a new leader, you will have to gain and retain this support in order to achieve success.
Peter Fischer, in his book ‘The New Boss’, sets out a number of building blocks to assist in creating successful leadership change. This article highlights some of the building blocks.
Manage expectations proactively: Skill at handling expectations is one of the first competencies a leader must have to manage his or her transition successfully. Expectations of superiors are critical to obtain role clarity, such as milestones and criteria for success. Expectations of employees tend to focus on the solution of old problems. However, the new leader could get employees to articulate their often unstated expectations of personal job security and advancement. Colleagues expect a newcomer to ask about their rules of the game.
Develop key relationships: Relationships with shareholders, superiors, employees, clients and colleagues determine the success of a change in leadership. It is also critical to deal with disappointed rivals and hidden competitors.
Establish a set of motivating goals: One of the first questions that employees put to their new leader is whether he or she has a plan and where their ideas will fit into it. Make it clear that you do not intend to impose some preconceived plan on employees without recognising the special features of their situation, and that future plans will take into account your legitimate interests as well as their long term interests.
Foster a positive climate for change: Question, with respect for what was done in the past, to gather a picture of the initial situation. Also question to identify strengths. Ask employees about departmental projects that they are proud of, and what strengths they have honed over the past two years.
You will find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
1. How much trust do the employees have in my abilities?
2. What do I know about their strengths?
3. What strengths urgently have to be developed?
4. What projects can develop the strengths?
Initiate changes effectively: Initiating changes means sending strong, clear signals for change. Employees must sense that matters are being taken seriously. Equally important is to ensure that the organisation is ready to undertake the change. Change projects should be initiated only after: (1) discussions and meetings have been held to prepare employees and other stakeholders, for change; (2) important key relationships needed for successful change have at least begun to develop; and (3) a clear concept exists for the first steps.
Typical problems of internal promotions
New leaders, who have been promoted internally, grapple with four typical problems:
• Clear and visible assumption of the leadership role;
• Delegation of tasks;
• Close connection to the department; and
• Too much background knowledge.
What can you do?
• Speak with your former colleagues frankly about your new duties and delegate tasks;
• If other employees in your department also applied for your new job, speak openly with them about the situation;
• Speak to your boss and people in other departments about issues they think need to be considered and about what is expected of you; and
• State within a reasonable period of time what will remain the same and what will change.
Typical problems of the externally appointed leader
• The discrepancy between what top management expects and what employees experience;
• Time pressure and the need to get to know the organisation;
• The lack of an internal network of relationships; and
• The pressure of the external leader’s own expectations.
What can you do?
• Treat the performance of technical tasks and the building of a viable network of relationships as two equally important responsibilities from the very beginning;
• Ask your boss whom you need to include and keep informed as you build your part of the business; and
• In all your discussions, remember the necessity of getting to know the organisation.
Sundra Naidoo is a Partner at Change Partners.