In leadership transitions, a subtle shift takes place from what happens before the transition, to how the actual transition takes place and what the role and place of the leader are in that time. While you lead transition, you must become aware of the way people and organisations experience this, and what changes are required to keep leading effectively.
The next set of signposts in leadership transitions are below. They build on the first seven and interrelate in and through the process of transition.
The Leader is central AND peripheral.
This is a real paradox in transitions. What really IS the role of the new leader? My best answer is “It depends”, it depends on what the organisation needs. It depends on what defining reality revealed. It depends on what the people are like and how they are placed for change, transition and re-engineering. It depends on the list of urgent and important things. It depends on internal and external factors. It really does depend. Really.
Leading in and through transition requires a great deal of courage, a great deal of humility and a great deal of wisdom. When do you do what becomes a critical process when leading in transition? I’ve learned there isn’t really a perfect time to do anything. There’s just time. The better question is, “What is the wisest time?” not what is the right time. People and organisations, experience transitions from their own view of the world. Sometimes it’s time to step up and take the next best step.
The leader is central because you might need to be the one who is courageous and goes first. The leader is peripheral because there might be pre-existing things that you can’t stop or control. As the leader its essential to know what the issues are and what your best role is.
Subtractions can be additions.
Whilst leading in and through transition, many truths become evident. The need for change, the necessity of change, the timing of change…. They all contribute to how the people experience, and lean in to or out of transition.
Some people lean in. They are the ones looking forward to the transition. They are the ones who have hoped for the change. They are the ones believing for better days. Some people lean out. They might have left beforehand but not left yet. They might have waited to see a transition but don’t wait around any longer than that. As a leader leading transition, you cannot afford to be too connected to who stays and who goes too early on, it has little or nothing to do with you. That might change later, but right at the point of change, people’s minds are already made up, and very little will change that.
I transitioned a local Church some years ago. In terms of leadership, it’s been the single biggest challenge I’ve had to face. Making personnel changes, board changes, direction changes and as time has gone by even culture and mindset changes. Some have stayed; some have left. Some have had nothing to do with me; some have had much to do with me as the leader. In amongst all of that, I continued to do two things. One, search my heart to see if there was any sense of being off track with the direction we were headed. Secondly, continue to look for the right people to move us further faster.
What I noticed was that sometimes someone left and it had a strangely positive impact on the community, on the culture, on the atmosphere. Sometimes, the subtraction WAS an addition. What we gained by that person’s departure was significantly greater than what we would have experienced if they stayed.
Be careful not to misinterpret this. I’m not revelling in this fact; I’m reflecting on it. Many of the people are good-hearted, solid contributors who just needed to find a different tribe. When they make the call to do that, they release themselves of any obligation to the organisation, and they release the organisation from any obligation to them.
Sometimes, their subtraction is an addition to the overall mission.
Listen to a few, a lot.
If it’s not obvious yet, let me make it so. Groups don’t lead organisations, leaders do. A leader I used to follow often said, “Anything with two heads is a monster.” Leadership isn’t necessarily focussed exclusively on the power and the position of one person, that can only create all sorts of imbalances. However, the opposite is equally true, group leadership does little more than guarantee the lowest common denominator in vision, culture, ethos, decision-making and execution.
When leading in transition, seek out a dream team of sorts. A small group of leaders who are for you, for the organisation, have some context, history and courage in spades, and utilise that group of people to help you lead in, and through transition. Use them as a sanity check, a place for wisdom, for moments of truth. Leverage them for information, context, history. Trust them, listen intently, deeply and humbly. And when THAT group agrees with you to push the go button, push it with great courage.
Listen to a few or a lot. It will serve courage and action. Key ingredients of effective transitions.
Respect the Transition Vs Re-engineering season.
This distinction becomes apparent over time and has no set time to appear in your organisation. Obviously transition is when the change of leadership occurs, and then the inevitable adjustments happen after that. re-engineering is much deeper, and can go on for much longer.
Transition is when the leader changes, the team changes, the direction changes and also when vision changes. re-engineering is when culture and mindsets begin to change. That can take longer. When leading in and through transition it will serve you, your team and the organisation to know when the shift from ‘it’s different now’ to ‘we’re different now’ occurs. The first is transition and the second is re-engineering.
I noticed that there was significantly more latitude to lead in and through transition. Stepping into the re-engineering zone has been more costly, required more courage, reflection, humility and personal growth. Shifting mindsets, holding fast to vision, and deepening culture, has taken much more time and needed a significantly greater investment of resources than transition ever did.
Leaders need to know the difference between transitioning and re-engineering. Leaders need to be able to see when the shift takes place and continue to lead towards the preferred future. Lead with a beautiful combination of love and determination, you’ll need both.
Know why, go first, show how.
My friend and colleague Greg Attwells taught me this. Leaders HAVE to go first. Leaders launch ahead of the pack with the knowledge of a deep, deep purpose (Your Why) and a commitment to taking others into the space where they can learn and do the things that the new world is inviting them to do.
Ask for a commitment but don’t expect full understanding. Invite your tribe to be partners and join a journey. Be co-learners together as you all move forward. When a challenge is faced, remind each other of the “why” that created the energy to launch and work out the next right thing, then do it. This often creates both the excitement (and the fear) of leaping into the beautiful unknown. Leaders do this beside people.
Pull leadership must create push leadership.
Pull leadership is when it comes from the top and in effect nudges the organisation. Push leadership is when there are many hands holding the vision and lending a hand. Transition is often a “pull” experience. A time and place where a number of really important things need to happen, sometimes urgently. In times of crisis or challenge leaders often need the freedom to simply make the changes that need to be made. To decide, choose, select and keep moving forward. This “executive” type leadership needs to be used sparingly and wisely. When the dust settles on the immediate, the priority of the leader then becomes to deepen the confidence and capability of the team to lead others.
Lead yourself. Lead. Lead others. Lead others to lead themselves. Lead others to lead others. This becomes the ongoing responsibility for a leader. Using “pull” sparingly and deepening the culture of “push”. Many leadership hands make light organisational work.
Grow bigger by growing broader.
The last stage in transition is having a game plan that develops leaders, that can carry the heart and soul of your tribe. A place where people can be truly invited into a growth experience that helps them see that they can lead, serve and influence others. A place where they can realise their life has the capability to impact and build people as well as vision.
You can’t grow bigger until you grow broader. Simple. The more leaders you have, the more people you can reach.
At some stage every leader leads in, and through transition. These refections intend to serve you well as you do that.
#onestepleadership | A Big Vision to Make Leadership Smaller