Leading an organization or a program is often a very tough job by itself.
But imagine if you find yourself in a new role where you are replacing an already established leader.
Understanding the Playing Field
Whether the leader you are succeeding has been doing well or not, it is a tough challenge. If your predecessor had excelled at his position, you have a reputation to follow and you do not want to taint it.
On the contrary, when the previous leader had not been doing so well, there is great expectation from you to build up momentum.
After all, that’s the reason you were hired to do the job.
On several occasions, I have had to fill in shoes in some highly visible positions and I remember feeling the pressure. As visibility increases, so does the pressure to perform. My thought process at that time was that no matter what I do, I have to do better.
On one occasion, I took a new position, but I had not closely watched or studied my predecessor. This made it difficult to figure out what exactly I had to perform better than. I had to do some quick research and determine what my performance metrics looked like.
This extra effort in researching my predecessor’s leadership style, performance, and results helped me understand how I was going to be judged by others and gave me a heads-up about my playing field.
How to Succeed at Succession
There are several factors one needs to keep in mind when taking over the role of another leader. Understanding these three main elements can put you ahead and help you be a success.
The very first thing that I had to come to terms with was the fact that no matter how I performed, I would have to deal with some amount of comparison with my predecessor.
I also had to prepare myself that I would also be facing some cases criticism, as well.
Therefore I had to develop a thick skin and more importantly tune out that noise and simply concentrate on the job at hand.
In all succession scenarios, I quickly realized that every leader has his or her own style. And even though I was filling in someone’s shoes, I didn’t have to necessarily follow the same style or approach.
What I needed to do was to slowly bring in my unique strength to the situation without causing a stir.
When it came down to the details of the actual work, I needed to take a two-step approach.
The first thing was to figure out what is working. Just because I am succeeding someone and I happen to have a different leadership style, doesn’t mean I have to change everything.
If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Identifying what to keep is the most crucial part of this process. Keeping these areas intact ensures stability.
Next step is to focus on what is not working. Clearly in every program, things become obsolete and need change. If my predecessor had not been doing well, there will be a lot of changes required. It really depends on the situation.
After figuring out areas that need attention, you start focusing on how to fix it.
I took some time to study the current state of the program, strategized on how and what to change, and then communicated to all the relevant stakeholders.
This is also a good time to look at long-term strategy, resources, milestones etc. and do a level-set with the stakeholders. Your stakeholders can be customers or other leaders in the organization.
You have to enlist support from the relevant team and sell your vision on how to bring about change.
Succession is a tricky business. It gets easier when one is being groomed for the position, but either way it requires careful positioning and execution.
So, have you ever taken over a leadership role from someone else? How did the transition go? Where you groomed for the post, or was it a sink-or-swim scenario? How are you planning successions for important roles at your organization? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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