I have a client going through a leadership transition. The former leader is gone and her successor has yet to be identified. Everyone is confronting the great unknown, and typically the direct reports are not in control of the outcome. It’s a scary, stressful time for these people. As usual, I don’t think I have the answer to how you should manage through this situation, but I do have some thoughts.
Communication is a very important factor for these direct reports. During the search for the replacement, complete transparency is most often not achievable – partially because candidates don’t want to jeopardize their current position. So you can’t announce who is under consideration. In addition, the candidate pipeline is in continuous flux, with candidates in different stages of the selection process. The moment you update your team, the readings on the flux capacitor will have changed. Although they’ll understand this intellectually, it provides little or no emotional comfort. But give them as much information as you can, as frequently as you can.
Listening is monumentally important. Ask them what they’d like to see in a new leader. Ask them about their concerns. Ask them for their thoughts and suggestions. Ask them how you can best support them during this situation. And most importantly, find things you can do immediately based on what you’ve heard.
Appoint an acting leader so team members have someone who’s carrying their flag, meeting their needs, setting direction and dealing with outstanding issues. This acting leader should make firm decisions, which will reduce the general air of uncertainty.
Make sure the former leader’s boss invests more time with these individuals, to give them strong support and to demonstrate their significance to the organization.
Do everything you can to keep people focused on productive activities, and highlight successes and progress. But be understanding and tolerant. Different individuals will deal with this stressful situation differently. You might see some behaviors you’d rather not see. Negative relationships and other forms of dysfunction could intensify. Teams that go into this situation with strong, positive relationships are better equipped to weather this storm.
One final note. I was in this situation once. I was a hotel human resources director at that time. The general manager, whom we loved and respected, got transferred. We, the direct reports, were really bummed out. Because we loved this guy so much, we couldn’t imagine a better future. It had to get worse. It was very stressful.
Well, after a while our new boss arrived. Short, German guy. Name of Horst Schulze. Although we could not conceive of it, our situation actually improved. Horst was much better than the former general manager. Under his leadership our business results improved, our service improved, our culture improved, and we all grew as hoteliers and as leaders.
So here’s the moral of the story. You must consciously remind people that this situation presents the real possibility for improvement and growth. In all likelihood, the team will be stronger and everyone will be better off.
The truth is that the future is always unknown. A leader welcomes the future. A leader instills hope. A leader encourages people to follow him or her into the future with the confidence that no matter what happens we’ll figure it out together.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.