Continue the Mission: The First 30 Days

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When things go wrong in your command, start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk. – General Bruce D. Clark

Standing on the platform in front of troops and family for the fourth time to take command, this time of a Mission Support Group, I was following a popular and successful commander. I’d be leading a very talented unit of 2,600 Airmen, civil service personnel, and contractors. They had a tremendous reputation for excellence.

In the previous three months, I’d prepared as best I could and now it was “go” time. Under the big Colorado sky on a stunningly beautiful summer day, thoughts about both the mission and people I was now responsible for leading circled my mind. All my previous leadership experience, all my networking, all my preparation had come to this moment. When it was my turn to speak, I stepped up to the mike and began my command.

In this series, I’ve written about how to exit gracefully and how to your prep for your new “command.” This month we take a look at what it takes to be the “New Guy” and we’ll focus in on the first crucial 30 days in “command.”

Before You Arrive

Changes in leadership like the assumption of command I described above are often planned and announced in advance. Retirements, promotions, and the like create openings in leadership positions in all organizations. Even when someone gets the sack, there’s usually time for some limited preparation. That time is important because every team is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. Even experienced leaders will need to make adjustments to their own style to suit the new team and mission.

If you have a good transition, your predecessor will have sent you plenty of information and planned a Left Seat-Right Seat time. If the transition is short or unplanned, your prep time is limited. No matter how long you have, spend it learning as much as you can before you arrive. Mission statements, public financial records, customer reviews, press releases, and anything available on the personnel. You’ll get two opportunities to speak to the team, once in public and once to your senior staff. Plan those talks carefully: first impressions really matter and it will be obvious if you haven’t done your homework.

At the “Change of Command”

The military conducts a change of command ceremony where the outgoing and incoming commanders exchange the unit’s flag as a symbol of passing the leadership of the unit. Those ceremonies and their civilian equivalents are all about the farewell for outgoing leader. As the new guy, your job is to thank everyone, give a brief version of your priorities, and get off the stage. Give your predecessor the room to bask in the adulation of the team one last time; it’s your team now and you’ll have plenty of time with them in the coming months and years.

During your speech, be gracious to the outgoing leader–even if he/she doesn’t deserve it. No matter what the circumstances that required a change in leadership, it’s not your place to pile on or take issue with the outgoing guy’s style or achievements. They know him–they don’t know you–so being gracious will make a good impression. It’s just good manners. I assure you no one will remember the “bumper stickers” you talk about at the ceremony, but they will remember if you’re snarky, rude, or go long. Get up, say your piece, and get off the stage.

The First Month

On your first day in the seat, you’ve got only two things to do: meet with your senior staff one and one and as a group. Use that time to get to know them better, get a sense of their professionalism and proficiency, and lay out your strategy and priorities. If you have an office or administrative staff, give them your expectations on how you expect work to flow. They’ll want to know how you like to organize your day and about any pet peeves you might have regarding the logistics of running the office.

Once you’ve met with your senior team–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force, it’s time to meet with the larger senior staff as a group. Plan to spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities and guiding principles, your expectations, and let them know where you’ll be focusing your attention. A few Powerpoint slides or a handout is a good idea since it allows them to listen better rather than taking notes. Allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway–and then give them a preview of what you plan to publish to the entire team. This is the first step to gaining their trust and getting them on board for where you’re planning to lead them. Set some achievable goals for the first 100 days and ensure your new team is on board.

During the first month, commit to spending time looking around and listening to your new team. As a rule of thumb, and unless something is badly broken, dangerous, or illegal, don’t make any changes for the first 30 days. This gives your team some breathing room to get used to you, and more importantly, time for you to understand why things are the way they are in the first place. Rare is the case where a leader or an organization is completely incompetent. Understand the context of your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes. Doing so will help avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. If your team is geographically separated, then record your session and make that recording available to them. During that all hands meeting, lay out your priorities and principles Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Lastly, get a thorough orientation to your new organization unit by unit. Resist the temptation to spend that entire orientation in a conference room reading PowerPoint slides. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can read slides on your own–you need to see where people are working and let them tell you what they’re doing. Believe me, you can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment. The morale will be self-evident and you’ll gain important insight into what needs to be changed on day 31.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Continue the Mission: How to Exit Gracefully (and Why You Should)

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Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. -George W. Bush

This month, I continue my series on successful leadership transition. If you missed the first part, you can go back and read it here. When we accept a leadership position we accept two things: (1) stewardship of the people and organization we’re leading, and (2) the understanding that we’ll be replaced some day. Regardless of the reason we may be handing off the reins to a successor–good or bad–how we manage that transition says a great deal about us as people and leaders.

Leadership transition is far more than just “exchanging salutes” and reporting to your new office. A successful transition of leadership depends on a servant leadership mentality and maturity. The principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote last month, good transition planning begins well in advance of the actual day. In fact, successful transitions occur because of the prep work done well before the “new guy” shows up.

Five Principles for Success

Below principles to keep in mind for the outgoing leader. Adhering to them is the best way to prepare the team and the organization for success under the incoming leader.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. You may be the best leader ever, but when you hand over the reins of command to another leader, his style is the most important one. Give your staff the benefit of helping them understand the “new guy’s” style and if you can make adjustments to accommodate him or her before you leave, so much the better. Your goal should be to make a difficult time as smooth as possible. Be sure to spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. While any leader should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions remain in place by documenting our decisions well. That’s what I mean by “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” If your successor understands the context of your decisions, and has access to much the same information, it makes it more likely good decisions remain. If there must be a change, then there’s enough data to make solid adjustments. Many a time I’ve avoided a bad decision by understanding why what I wanted to change was done in the first place–you owe that to your successor.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. For any transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” she’ll be thoroughly prepared and will know what adjustments she needs to make.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the “New Guy” or the Old Company. I can’t understate how important this principle is to a successful transition. If you and the incoming leader get along famously, great! If not, keep it to yourself. You’ll do great harm to everyone–including your reputation–by disparaging the “new guy.” Believe me, no matter whether he’s a “saint” or “sinner”, your people will make up their own minds about the new leader soon enough. They don’t need your help. When you’ve moved on to other things, keep your words positive. What you say about the guy who replaced you or the company says more about you than them. Even if you’re the only one, be the adult in the room.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave. Once you’ve moved out of the proverbial “Left Seat”, then get going. Hanging around makes it awkward on everyone. This requires a little planning, you really don’t want to be walking back into the building the day after those tearful goodbyes to return your security badge.

Mature Leaders Do Transition Well

Remember leadership is never about you. Leadership is always about those you lead and serve. Leaders who understand that principle first will be the ones who leave a place better than they found it. That’s a successful leadership transition.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Transitioning Leadership – When You’re the New Guy and a Repairman

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It was the second time I’d been sent to fix a broken unit, only this time the unit didn’t know they were broken. The team had all the externals of a high performing team, but only on the surface.

Below the surface, they were dysfunctional and broken. The organizational chart bore little resemblance to the actual power structure within the unit. Senior non-commissioned officers who were supposed be leading at the first line exercised little actual leadership. Relationships with the customers of the unit were frayed because my predecessor had mystified the process to the point where “yes” seemed an impossible dream. Readiness indicators were at the lowest possible levels, disciplinary actions were severe and routine for everything from multiple DUIs to a wave of failing fitness tests.

As the unit’s leadership team looked at me, they really didn’t expect much from me. I was coming from The Pentagon and everything they’d heard from my predecessor was that I was an uptight headquarters “weenie” who knew nothing about the “real” Air Force. On top of that, several members of the command staff were not only uninterested in working with me, they were actually hostile to what they perceived of my agenda.

So began my first 100 days in command.

Being the Repairman

Last week, I wrote about taking the reins of leadership and the do’s and don’ts for the new guy. This week’s post is all about taking over a failing organization. There’s many variations on the theme of fixing something that’s broken, but it really boils down to two: (1) they’re broken and they know it, and (2) they’re broken and they don’t. The second one is the hardest.

If a team is broken and they know they’re broken, there’s some hope you’ll be able to get the team working together toward repair during the first 100 days. If you’ve had a good transition, your new team will be looking at you hopefully. Your task as the new leader is to have a plan or make one quickly. If your new team knew how to get themselves out of the mess they’re in, they’d have done it already. However, just because they don’t have a plan doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s wrong. Even if they’re looking to you as their savior, simply dropping out of the sky and imposing a get-well plan on them will guarantee resistance. You have to have a plan, but you have to get their assent.

If the team is broken and they don’t know it, you’re in for a hard slog because before you can even make or present a plan you’ll have to convince them they’ve got a problem. Again, you can’t just drop out of the sky and force something on the team. No matter how good your plan or how dysfunctional the team, they need to believe they’re sick before you can lead them anywhere. You may have had a good transition, but you will lose any good will you might have if you launch on a recovery plan prematurely

The Method

There’s no “checklist” or single solution to leading a broken team to high performance, but there is a method. This method has been successful many times, but you’ll have to take into account the personalities and team dynamics.

Lay Out Your Priorities and Principles Immediately. As soon as you assume the mantle of leadership, you need to lay out who you are and what you’re about. Your new team will have heard all about you, and much of their “intel” will likely be superficial at best. Even if their intel is correct, your approach may be very different than with a previous team because of the situation. For example, you might be easy going with a previous team–what the military calls “low maintenance”–but the new team may require a firmer hand. Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want to be memorable, and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating them often. Something like Readiness-Responsiveness-Resiliency or Sustainability & Responsibility works well; use alliteration and rhyme to make it easy to remember. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Look and Listen. Regardless whether they know they’re failing or not. you’ll need to listen to your team to find out what they know and look around to make an assessment of the operation. Commit to your team to make no changes in the first 30 days unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your senior staff especially will be anxious and perhaps even defensive about making changes no matter how necessary. The 30 day buffer gives you a chance to listen to your team and find out what they think is important. It also enables you to discern who will be you ally, and where the landmines are buried.

Make a Plan with your Team. Be as Collaborative as You Can. In a perfect world, you and your team would sit down over the course of a few weeks and assemble a plan to fix their problems. No matter how hostile the team is to your strategy, leaders have to at least try to work with the team and get them on board. Even when you know exactly what’s broken and how to fix it, you’ll need to give your team some ownership and a stake. Do that by spending time planning with your team. Use as many of their ideas as you can, and then give them a stake and a role in implementation. Make them partners and stakeholders in the successful implementation of the plan. If collaboration just isn’t possible, then you’ll have to go it alone, In that case, be sure your boss is on board then give your orders and follow through.

Inspire and Lead.

In all cases, your people will need you to inspire them and lead them. Any change of leadership is difficult, but it’s impossible if the leader doesn’t take his job as “Chief Cheerleader” seriously. Even when most of the team isn’t even aware they’re broken they’ll want to know you’re rooting for them.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

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The military change of command ceremony is rooted in centuries of tradition back to the time of Frederick the Great. In the days before radio communications, the unit’s commander used his flag as a symbol of command and to signal movements on the battlefield. Leaders would physically hand the unit’s organizational flag from the outgoing to the incoming leader to symbolize the transfer of authority. Civilian companies have their own way of transferring authority, but the effect should be the same: a visible transfer of authority from “old guy” to “new guy.” Unless there’s compelling reason not to have a ceremony, like the previous leader was removed or left unexpectedly, doing a “change of command” ceremony is an important tool to keep a unit moving forward during what can be a disruptive time.

In a previous post, I wrote about what to do as the outgoing executive leader. This week we’re talking about the “new guy” at the executive level.

The Ceremony

The basic structure of a change of command ceremony is unchanged for centuries. The two leaders–outgoing and incoming–come out together led by the leader at the next echelon above. The organizational flag is passed from one to the other, then both make brief remarks. For the outgoing commander, this is a time for farewells and the ceremony is predominately for the outgoing leader and the team to make a formal break. For the incoming commander, it’s time to briefly introduce command philosophy–and get off the stage. There will be plenty of time for more later.

In non-military organizations and especially for executive leaders we often separate the two events–a retirement or farewell for the outgoing leader and some sort of welcome for the incoming–but there’s real value in the team seeing the transfer of authority from old to new. In a handshake, the passing of an “artifact” like a pen or even a coffee mug can be a powerful symbol of the transfer of allegiance. Making that transfer public and tangible goes a long way to enabling the organization to go on successfully under the new leader.

The First 30 Days

The first 30 days are a critical time for new leaders because first impressions are lasting ones. Use that time when you’re still the “new guy” to learn as much as you can about the team, the organization, and the processes.

During your first day on the job, meet one-on-one with key senior direct reports, administrative assistants, and the team as a whole. Help them understand your guiding principles and your priorities for your time at the helm. Your administrative staff, if you have one, will be keenly interested in your likes and dislikes for running the office, keeping your schedule, and passing information. Your key direct reports will want to get to know you, and you them, as well as understand what changes you intend to make.

Once you’ve met with your senior direct reports–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force–it’s time to meet with the entire staff as a group. Spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities, guiding principles, and your expectations. I always included few PowerPoint slides or a handout so they could listen better rather than taking notes. Be sure to allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway. Lastly give them a preview of what you intend to deliver to the entire organization during your upcoming “all hands call” and seek their feedback. Again, you’re not likely to get any feedback, but people appreciate being asked and any feedback you get tells you something about the people you’re working with.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. I always tried to do that in the first week, the first day is best. If your team is spread out over many locations, then record your session and make that recording available to them. Like in the meeting with your senior staff, lay out your priorities and principles and make it memorable. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. This is your real first impression–make it count.

As a rule of thumb, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid making any changes for the first 30 days. Understand your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes; this will help you avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Finally, during the first month make a deliberate effort to get around to as many work centers and offices as humanly possible. Avoid spending that entire time in conference rooms–you can read on your own time–you’re there to meet the people and see where they work. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment, and that sort of listening and personal contact means a great deal to your people.

Day 31

Once you reach your 31st day, you’ll be ready to begin moving the organization forward on the path you choose. What’s more, if you do these first few weeks well, you’ll have a team ready to move with you. Of course, not every situation can wait 30 days. Sometimes an organization is broken and stakeholders want action now. Take as much time as you can; time spent preparing the team to accept you as the new leader and to accept your agenda is like money in the bank waiting on you to cash the check. A smooth transition will make Day 31 possible.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Continuing the Mission – Leadership Drives Culture During Transition

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A change in leadership is not a change in mission. -Military maxim

The focus of January is the transition of leadership in the White House, so it’s a good time to talk about how successful leaders transition. I believe we do leadership transition well in the military, so there’s some lessons there for others. Every two to three years, commanders swap out, so being able to make that transition smoothly while continuing the mission is crucial.

Always Teaching Others

A good transition begins with a good culture—and the military culture is a learning culture. Because we work in a dangerous business with a highly mobile workforce, we’re always teaching someone else to do our jobs, and we’re culturally primed to think about how to hand off our work to our successor. For the military servicemember, the mission and the team are always more important than any single individual.

The military learning culture depends on three key factors:

Clearly defined processes: When work processes are clearly defined, and documented, the people are able to pass their knowledge on to others. In the military, we often maintain a “continuity book” with checklists, contact rosters, and applicable regulations/resources we used to do our jobs. The theory is if someone isn’t there, another person can step in and do the work. Leaders are no different, and all of us in command and leadership positions have a collection of briefs, memos, and rosters. This idea has applicability to any organization—no private or public team can afford to have a single point of failure. If the organization fails because “Sam” is the only person on the team who knows how to do a certain task, it’s not just Sam’s fault for not ensuring he had a backup. It’s the fault of his teammates for not looking out for him, and the leader for not ensuring there was no single point of failure. Leadership magnifies that responsibility.

Training is valued and resourced: Constant training is integral to the military culture. We dedicate time and money to ensure people remain proficient at their assigned duties. Spending time and money on training returns dividends in the forms of increased proficiency and team effectiveness. When training is done in groups, there are additional intangible benefits of encouraging learning, cross-functional knowledge, and team cohesion. The bottom line here is when the boss believes something is important, so will the team members.

Leaders encourage and model cross-functional expertise: Leaders must set the example when it comes to establishing and maintaining a learning culture. In addition to resourcing training, leaders should know how the organization functions and how the various pieces fit together to produce the whole. This means leaders must be visible and engaged. In small teams, leaders should be able to step in and perform some if not all jobs on the team. In larger teams, leaders clearly there’s not enough mental bandwidth to know every job—but leaders surely ought to know what the various business units do to accomplish the mission of the team.

The Mission is More Important than Me

Of course, at the most basic level the linchpin of a good transition is servant leadership. When leaders understand their teams and their mission are more important than their personal desires, every transition becomes much smoother. This means leaders must be as concerned with their successor as with their own desires and agenda. Six months is about the right time to begin thinking about transitioning to the new leader. There’s no need to get the staff energized at that point, but a servant leader should begin organizing notes and background information the incoming leader will need to know. What you really want to avoid is a rush at the last minute because you want to pass along as much knowledge as possible to the “new guy.”

Once a successor is named, the real work begins. Reach out to the incoming leader and ask them about what they’re thinking and what they need. Prepare the staff as best as you can on who the new leader is and what they’re agenda might be like.  Model the desire to help the new leader be successful to the team. For example, as an outgoing leader I avoided making long-term decisions that weren’t absolutely necessary. When possible, consult with the new leader—particularly on personnel decisions the “new guy” must live with. Clearly, there’s only one leader at a time, but you can ensure the organization you’ve invested yourself in and the people you’ve dedicated yourself to leading will be successful by putting energy into the transition. Lead the team all the way to the moment you hand over the reins to the new leader, and encourage your team members to be prepared for the new agenda.

One final note: never, ever, bad-mouth the incoming or outgoing leader. If you’ve got nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all. Being negative doesn’t help anyone, least of all your team, and only reflects on you.

Mission. People. Success.

Adopting a servant leader mindset, you can ensure a smooth transition that leaves you free to move on to other things, and your team prepared to continue their success.

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Outgoing Executive

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I tried to stay out of sight, but I just had to return the car keys. Calling my now former deputy, I asked him to meet me in the parking lot so I could return his car keys. “Why don’t you just come up?” he asked. “I’ve already said my good-byes,” I replied, “it would be weird.” He chuckled, “Just leave them in the seat, I’ll get them later. Have a great flight Sir!” he said.

Such is the dance of the outgoing commander. The lesson of “passing the baton then be gone” is instructive for any leadership transition. In this week’s post: tips for the outgoing leader.

A successful transition depends as much on the outgoing leader as it does the incoming leader. For the high performing leader, loyalty to the organization and the people we work with are a primary concern. The outgoing leader should make it a priority to help the “new guy” integrate into the team and prepare the team for the new leader. Of course, the terms of your departure often dictate how much you’ll want to–or even are able to–help your successor. If you’re being sacked, or if the split is not amicable, then transition planning is more difficult. That said, the way a leader departs a job is important to preserving your reputation as well as ensuring the team doesn’t suffer when there’s a transition in leadership. This is especially true for executive departures. Nothing is gained by allowing the departure of one executive to become a drama-filled event!

 

Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. -George W. Bush

Five Principles of a Successful Transition

Download the Transition Countdown Infographic!

 

The five principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote on the General Leadership blog, good transition planning begins weeks or even months in advance. In fact, most of the work for a successful transition of leadership is done by the existing team.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. Every leader has their own style, and the “new guy” might have one radically different than yours. In a perfect world, the new leader’s style is similar to yours, but that’s rarely the case. You don’t have to make any adjustments to your own style, but it’s good to be mindful of the change that’s coming. If you can make adjustments to prevent the staff from being “shocked” by a radically different style, so much the better.  In any event, spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. Leaders make decisions based on the the best information we have at the time. While any executive should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions can remain in place by documenting our decisions well. I term this idea “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” Keeping good records, making sure staff who remain through the transition understand the decisions, and ensuring the new executive has access to the reasons why are all ways to ensure good decisions last.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. In the military, we call the leadership overlap time “Right Seat-Left Seat” time. The term comes from the positions in an aircraft or combat vehicles where the co-pilot and the commander trade places when after the co-pilot becomes familiar with the mission and vehicle. For executive transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). The staff can brief the new leader, the outgoing one can be on hand to explain things, and most importantly the staff can see a responsible and smooth transfer of power. When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” he’ll be thoroughly prepared.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the New Guy or the Old Company. This one is very important. No matter whether the incoming leader is a saint or, ahem, sinner, bad mouthing the “new guy” is unseemly and unprofessional. Remember, you can’t control others’ actions–but you can control your own. How you behave before, during, and after a transition says more about you than your successor. Resolve to be kind and mature.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave.  Nobody likes the “old guy” hanging around–it’s awkward. Once you hand over the reins to your successor, say your good-byes and take your leave. If you care about the organization and/or the people you’ve led, then allow them the space to get to know their new boss and start working his way.

Moving On

There are dozens of reasons for a change in leadership, ranging from retirement to getting the sack. For leaders at the executive level, managing that transition no matter what the circumstances says a great deal about us. Make that transition successful.

 

 

 

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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