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Tips When Taking Over (Or Transformational Leadership)

September 25, 2014
Borderless Leadership

by Roger Ingbretsen

When assuming a new leadership role, your job as a leader is not simply to bring out the best in your people. Your goal (through words and example) is to get them to play over their heads… to do things they normally couldn’t do, and achieve goals beyond their normal talents and abilities. Your job is to create a synergy that allows your employees to produce more together than they could have done individually. Three key ingredients to making this happen are awareness, passion and focus.

• Awareness is the essential ingredient in discovering and addressing problems.
• Passion is an essential ingredient to winning, from the basketball court to the office.
• Focus is the ingredient which helps keep your team’s eye on the ball and their vision on the championship.

Caution: Your people won’t be aware if you are not aware – passionate unless you’re passionate – and focused unless you’re focused.

The following steps are an excellent process to use when taking over and rebuilding your championship team.

Delay Making Major Decisions: Don’t be pressured to make major changes or big decisions too soon. To the extent possible, take a low-key approach until you are ready. Gather information, see how things are done and get to know your people.

Study Past Success: Discover what major accomplishments your group is proud of. A new leader will gain respect quicker when he or she recognizes and appreciates what the group has done in the past. By recognizing past accomplishments you will be better equipped to build a solid foundation for the future.

Do “one-on-one” Interviews: This will allow you to establish yourself quickly, gain respect, build trust faster and learn important information about your people and the organization. During the interviews ask these questions and… of utmost importance “Listen to Learn.” Take notes and let them do 80% of the talking. Use these questions:

1. What is keeping you from doing your best?
2. What can I do to help you accomplish your job?
3. What makes you feel appreciated?
4. What specific strengths do you bring to this organization?
5. What specific personal development plans are you pursuing?
6. What did my predecessor do that we should continue?
7. What did my predecessor do that we should stop?
8. What do you see as my role in this organization?
9. What problems do you think needs immediate attention?
10. What long-term direction do you think we should take?

Identify the Informal Leaders: Informal leaders can make you or break you. Informal leaders are those who are not in formal positions of power or authority, but have the ability to influence actions and attitudes over those in your organization. Try to make them your allies so they can enhance rather than sabotage what you are trying to do. Are they ready for advancement to a formal leadership role? Are they a rising star?

Conduct a Meeting: Avoid having a meeting until you have something specific to say and enough background information to speak with authority. At the meeting highlight their past successes, some of the issues or problems affecting the group and what you plan on doing. Talk about some of the changes you are considering and why. Here are some other items to cover in this meeting: This is your opportunity to provide a positive first impression.

• Your background and experience
• Just enough personal information to show you are human
• Your expectations
• Your pet peeves
• Your leadership style
• How they should approach you and communicate problems
• What to do with new ideas and suggestions

Set Goals and Start Solving Problems: Now that you have established yourself as reputable and knowledgeable it is time to set goals for the future. There are many ways to set goals, but the main thing is “don’t do it in the dark.” Involve your people as much as possible. Let them help you in your role as their new leader, it will be easier and more effective. High Impact Teams win best when they take part in developing the game plan.

Conduct an Off-Site Workshop: With information gained from the interviews and the feedback received at you meeting/s, plan an off-site workshop with your key staff/leaders (both formal and informal leaders). The following Fifteen subjects/areas are examples of where effective dialogue by you and your key leaders can lead to substantial increases in organizational performance. A good mind-set approach to discussing the fifteen subjects or areas is to answer for each topic the questions:

• What are we presently doing well and why?
• What are we presently doing poorly and why?

1. Discuss and begin to identify the kind of people (skills, attitude, and behaviors) who will flourish in the environment you and your team want to establish. Your ability to raise the bar and attain higher goals and objectives will depend on the team you field. Make sure your team understands the key role they play in hiring and developing the best talent.

2. Spend time discussing the importance of a good attitude both in them as leaders and in those they lead. As the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. When that bad apple is a bad attitude, it can ruin your team. You can train skills but it is almost impossible to train adults to have a good attitude. Hire attitude – train skill.

3. Discuss the merits of having a winning attitude. When you’re winning, nothing hurts. But when you have a bad month or quarter, when a key player leaves for greener pastures, or when your industry as a whole is struggling, you and your leadership team have to set the tone, model the way and encourage your people to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

4. Discuss and establish the best way to communicate with and listen to your entire team. Your strategic course of action is only as effective as your ability to communicate it. Have the pipelines set up to get your message out there, and don’t forget communication goes both ways. Educate you team on the best way to communicate with you.

5. Acknowledge what you and your team don’t know. Identify those around you or outside your organization who are the experts and don’t be afraid to lean on them. In today’s complex business environment no one expects a leader or the team to know everything; however, collectively you and your team should continually be gaining new and relevant knowledge.

6. Ask the question; are we easy to business with? There is no reconnaissance more important than scouting out the territory where your products and services meet their internal and external customers. Seeing the customers and actually interacting with them provides some invaluable information to you and your team.

7. Discuss the value of teamwork. The workshop offers a good opportunity to model teamwork and impress upon your people that, if you’re going to be successful, you’re going to be successful together. One is too small of a number to achieve greatness.

8. Discuss each player’s role. You work together, but each person has a particular job to do otherwise they would not be needed. Make sure each individual knows specifically what he or she needs to do to add the most value to the team.

9. Make sure your time and your teams time is used to its best advantage. While it’s pleasant to swap stories about each other’s golf game, you’re better off saving them for the fairway. Use the time in the workshop to engage in a learning-oriented conversation. This approach also sets the tone for your staff so when they are back in the office they will use the clock effectively. Time is money.

10. Discuss with your team the need for action but to also be wary of reckless re-engineering. If you’re assuming leadership of a large organization or department, take the time to understand its current direction, goals and objectives. Making too drastic and immediate a change can derail both confidence and long-term strategy.

11. With your team, target a few early wins. Momentum counts, and nothing succeeds like success. It’s critical for a new leader to create momentum during the transition. Pick some problems the organization has not been able to address and figure out a way to fix them quickly to establish a new direction. In some cases, action beats brilliance.

12. Focus on improving short-term productivity related issues affecting your group. This will show your team you are serious about improving their work life, further improving your reputation and credibility as a leader. It will also give them something to bring back to their folks demonstrating a new beginning.

13. You can’t fix everything at once, so with your team settle on a few major priorities. Typically, you can’t do everything you want to do, so you need to make some strategic choices. This is where you begin to align and focus the organization around a common vision for the future.

14. Express to your leadership team that you will not allow them to grow comfortable maintaining the status quo, even if they’re doing a good job. Raising the bar is the name of the game. Your goal and theirs must be to set a new standard for excellence.

15. It is easy to become so focused on the details of a particular task or assignment that you forget what you’re ultimately working toward. Remind your team how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, making sure they understand the big picture and can clearly communicate the big picture to their people. Discuss how important this is toward helping everyone to focus on where you need to take the organization.

NOTE: The goal of your off-site workshop/s should be directed toward bringing a heightened sense of “awareness,” “passion” and “focus” toward what needs to be accomplished by you, your leadership team and your organization.


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