by Brian Turner — April 05, 2019

A user's guide to getting off on the right foot

Stepping into any new leadership role can be daunting. And, if you're following in the footsteps of a charismatic and admired leader, you may have an especially tough act to follow.

In those early months of a transition, there a few steps that can help you find your feet, and your voice, and will get you off to a strong start. 

Choose media that play to your strengths. Communication is critical from day one, and the media that worked for your predecessor may not be best for you. Consider your strengths, and use the media that resonates most with them.

If you’re personally at your best in small-to-medium size groups, use a more intimate setting like a town hall to create an environment of free-flowing dialogue. If you’re better at one-to-many communications, then you may want to go with a broader medium such as video. Any way you go, make sure your medium reflects your personal style and strengths.

You’ll also need to embrace a spirit of give-and-take in your communications, which is invaluable when people are feeling off balance about a leadership transition.

Personalize your message. You’re coming in behind a leader who people knew well. Give them a chance to get to know you by sharing a personal story of your own. Weave it into your early messages—even your very first message as a leader.

Create a platform for the personal contribution you want to make to the world and your own organization. Your story will resonate because your people will see how you relate to the organization’s future, and it will allow them to get to know you better.  

Simplify your message. You'll have a lot to do when you step into your new role. So keep your messages simple. This isn’t the time to try and tackle everything at once. You’ll want to take your top three to four priorities as a business and focus on communicating what those like look like post-transition.

Recognize and respect your predecessor. It's important to recognize the parts of your predecessor's agenda that are still important to your organization going forward. This recognition has to be heartfelt. You’ll want to honor their contributions, which will help instill confidence in the next steps you’ll take to move forward.

Be deliberate about change. The business world is filled with the cautionary tales about incoming leaders who bring "their people." Sweeping personnel changes tend to create churn.

You can use a few simple filters to avoid unneeded change. Since a lot of leadership is about mindset and alignment, you can start with: Can I get this person to change their mindset and align with our goals? If not, do I need to make a new work assignment or a broader change?

You can also use the transition to “unlock” new leadership voices that your organization needs to hear.  You’ll want diversity of mindset and profile in your leadership team. It’s often a good idea to leverage “special projects” that enable you to see new leadership talents brought to the table to work on important issues.  You will be able to evaluate emerging talent, as well as to send a message to your organization that all voices matter.

It may come as a surprise when you realize that you won't be "the new leader" for long. People are highly adaptable. They won't stay in that transitional period as long as you will. Once they see who you are and what you're about, they're ready to move forward. You'll need to be ready, too.