Jul 7, 2015

Leadership Transition

Change in leadership always produces fatalities.

That is, people leave when confronted by change in leadership because embracing the new leader is like trying to fall in love again, after a breakup, with a new person. 

There’s a period of mourning, letting go, starting over, learning and building hope that they need to go through first. Not only that, the arrival of a new leader can be a period full of uncertainties where people are burdened by these questions: 

     Will I have a place in the type of organization the new leader wants to create?
     With our new direction, will I find I am no longer competent?
     Will the new leader bring in his “own people” he’s comfortable to work with, at my expense?

It’s a delicate thing to navigate. But it doesn’t have to be messy because it can be done right. So the question is, how do you help the people navigate through the leadership transition?

       1) Commissioning

The manner of introducing the new leader is of critical importance here. Imagine Moses. How would the Israelites respond if their seemingly irreplaceable leader, the one powerful ruler who answers God’s call to deliver them from the hands of Egypt and the one who speaks to God face to face were to pass the baton to one of their buddies, Joshua? Probably not so excited.

But Moses made sure the people knew that Joshua was the man God has designated. He ordained and blessed him in front of the whole assembly in what can be described as a blend of grandeur and solemnity, of faith and certainty.

“Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.” (Num. 27: 22-23)

Application: Prepare the hearts of the people. Don’t surprise them with a leader ‘here one day and gone the next’ approach. The whole process of transitioning from the old to the new leadership could take months or even years. But when everyone’s ready to make the transition official, think presidential inauguration. It doesn’t have to be that momentous but at least don’t make the event so plain and ordinary.
       2)  Connecting

The first thing the new leader needs to do, as soon as he/she jumps into the role, is to engage the people at the heart level. The more personal his/her approach is, the more successful he will be in getting their buy in.

One common mistake is to believe that the vision of the organization will be enough to keep the people in it. But the reality is, if the people haven't bought into the new leader, it really doesn’t matter how great his/her vision is. As John Maxwell puts it, "people buy into the leader first, then the vision."

People leave and it’s rarely a competence issue on the part of the new leader. They just haven’t connected.

Application: Hear them out, help them voice out their fears; care about them at a human level, at an emotional level. 

       3)  Courtship

The people had their moments with the old leader – the conflicts they resolved together, the intense arguments that bring them laughter now when they talk about it, the bonding sessions, the family vacations they did together and all those beautiful memories. In short, they love the old leader.

Application: Your goal is not to replace the old leader in their hearts. You’d surely be compared but like a stranger in pursuit of a person’s heart, be patient. Time is your ally. Invite them to build new memories with you, one day at a time. 

       4)  Continue looking for new blood

Application: Whether you’re able to retain the people in the organization or not, continue recruiting new ones. Focusing your energy on keeping the old ones happy is taxing while adding new individuals with fresh ideas is always invigorating and you need to be in that latter state to be able to fulfill your mission. 


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