The beginning days are critical in leadership transitions. I’ve learned the impressions created in the initial days – positive or negative – are often hard to overcome. The momentum a new leader should have can be jeopardized by the environment created during the opening days of his or her leadership tenure. Therefore, I make three requests of teams I lead in the opening days of my leadership transition.
Knowing this, the first time I meet with the staff of a new organization, I try to set the stage for a healthy transition. This is especially true those with whom I will not work with as often. For example, in a large church there is usually some sort of lead team. I spend lots of time with them. If I mess up there is time to recover.
But simply by nature of our job I will spend less time with people on the family ministry team or the facilities staff, for example. I know a poor impression in the beginning will be harder to overcome, because I will have less opportunity to correct it.
In an attempt to release some of the pressure in this early phase of leadership, I make three requests of the staff for the beginning of my tenure as their leader.
Here are 3 requests I make in a leadership transition:
Level the playing field
If we are going to be a team, let’s act like it from the beginning. The less they treat me less like a boss, the more I’ll treat them like partners on a mission.
I realize there is a natural tension and apprehension with any change of leadership. People simply don’t know what to expect. Therefore, the more we can get on equal ground from the beginning the less tension all of us will feel. The bottom line is I want to be seen as a team player from the start. I can’t demand that. Plus, I realize they are looking to me for leadership. I’ll assume that role, but I want to lead as a part of the team, not outside the team.
Lower the bar
I set high expectations for teams I lead. Truth is I am seldom completely satisfied with what we are accomplishing or could accomplish. I’m always wondering how we could do things better.
In the early days of a leader’s tenure, however, the team may not be functioning on all cylinders yet. That’s okay. It will come in time.
For the early days, I request we not expect to get things right every time. Let’s not expect that we will perfectly gel as a team at first. We should give some time for error and mistakes to be made (by others and me). In fact, that will help us be a better team in the future.
It is important for a new leader to learn the team dynamics, the individual strengths and weakness of team members, and to assess how a team can function better. Equally important is for the team members to learn how the leader thinks and responds to situations and to develop enough trust and respect in him or her to willingly follow. That all takes time.
Limit the confusion
Miscommunication is deadly always, but especially in the early days of a new relationship. Let’s not be afraid to ask questions such as, “What do you mean? Are you saying _____? Can you help me understand why_____?”
I tell teams that even if they have to say, “Ron, you’re an idiot!” that would be better than misunderstanding something and building wedges in our relationship that may take months or years to correct.
The communication in the beginning days is that important. We must practice good listening skills and have the patience to explain ourselves when needed. I share stories with them, such as I’ve been accused by teams in the past of not giving enough to details to be understood completely. So, if you are uncertain what I’m asking you to do, please ask. I will not be offended.
I realize it will take time for them to learn to trust me. As I’ve shared before, I give instant trust to the people on a team. I assume they want to be there and do their job well. But that’s not often afforded to a new leader. And there are usually tons of reasons why from their own history with leaders. Hopefully, however, with intentionality we can create an atmosphere in the beginning conducive for a healthy team to form in time.