Leadership Transitions

When reorganizing an operation, the most crucial element is selection of the right leaders. Changing incumbent leaders is not a trivial matter.

The transition from a current leader to a new one can be hard on the culture. According to Steven Sample, "Leaders must remember that creating genuine trust is not like dumping instant coffee into hot water. A leader who seeks to operate effectively over the long term needs to minimize turnover among his senior advisors in order to allow trust and candor to develop on a solid foundation."

Make the physical transition to the new leader happen quickly. If the exiting leader has no urgent new assignment, he may argue for a transition period to "bring Sally up to speed on our organization." This is a bad idea from several perspectives:

• The incumbent, Clem, is a lame duck, so his initiatives are in limbo until the new leader, Sally, supports or changes them.

• People relate well to Clem and will seek him out for advice during the transition. This creates loops for Sally to untie later on.

• Usually there is physical space for only one leader. If they are both together for more than a day it becomes pretty awkward to just lock up the office at night.

• Clem and Sally may not have a particularly warm relationship, since she just took his job.

• Clem may be in a grieving process and lack the optimism required to sustain people in transition.

• Sally is in charge, but if Clem is there to "give advice," the signals coming from them will be confusing and muddled.

I recall awkward situations where I nearly had to use a crow bar to get the exiting leader to move out. On the flip side, the most efficient transfer was when I inherited a rather large organization. The exiting leader showed me where the personnel files were, gave me the office keys and his phone number. He indicated he would help me in any way I wanted and then left. The entire transition took less than 10 minutes. That was a blessing, because it started everyone off with a clean slate.


Robert Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Incorporated, an organization dedicated to development of leaders. He has spoken on leadership topics and the development of trust in numerous venues across the country. He is author of three leadership books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for ProfessionalsUnderstanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  His ability to communicate pragmatic approach...

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