Planning the leadership transition

Leadership is vital to successful planning and implementation of business strategy. Why? Leadership deals with the future. It deals with understanding the present, but it also involves understanding what the future has to be. A lot of people have been trained as managers, but they have not developed into leaders.

Leaders and managers have different goals and visions. Managers are trained to keep the organisation going in a straight line. Leaders deal with the vision, mission, and the goals of an organisation. It is rare to find someone who is both a good leader and a good manager. A person like Dr. Jack Welch may be considered a good leader, because he offers hope and creates opportunities. At the same time, he appears to be a good manager, being able to get things done. (Are there Ghanaian examples?).

Leadership is important to the organisation’s business strategy because the strategy must be linked to the future; it cannot be just an extension of the present. Effective leaders demonstrate their farsightedness in a variety of ways for ensuring the adoption and continuity of business strategy.

One way is by creating cross-functional teams and training managers to supervise these diverse groups. Another way is to ensure that a department continues to function effectively during a management change. To keep continuity of strategy, someone in the organisation must be responsible for managing the leadership transition.

The transition period starts before the new leader even takes over. It begins as soon as the rumour goes out that there is going to be a change in leadership. Employees start to get the feeling that change is forthcoming. The present leader starts withdrawing from staff and may shy away from approving new projects.

When a new manager or leader comes into a unit, the members of that workgroup go through a transition as much as the incoming manager. Team members are in a wait-and-see stage; they are looking to see what this incoming manager is going to do. For example, how is she going to act, how is she going to treat the staff, and what changes will be made?

While the group is in a pullback phase, the manager is often in a push-forward phase. She is eager and motivated while the workgroup is cautious. A problem arises when she does not have the leadership skills to win them over.

Keys to Leadership

A management role is delegated down from the top of the organization. A leadership role is delegated from the workgroup. Any individual who is appointed to a management position automatically is the manager, but whether she becomes the leader of the workgroup is up to the group. The question is not whether they will comply with the individual’s management authority, but will they regard this person as a leader?

It is hard to know when the group accepts a new person as the leader. The way the group starts to acknowledge leadership is anticipation. For example, team members start to anticipate what the leader wants.

They start to offer suggestions, they do things without being asked, and they are more free and open. They develop better working relationships with each other because they are now comfortable with the manager as leader. They are willing to follow and not to second-guess decisions.

This is important aspect of leadership that a lot of managers do not understand. They think because somebody gives them a title and an office that they are the leader; they are not. They may be the boss, but whether they become the leader depends on how they manage the transition process.

New managers often make a variety of mistakes that can damage the effectiveness of a team. A major mistake made by incoming managers is that they act too cautiously. Groups in a transitional stage need a manager with a task-oriented management style, not a relationship-oriented style. A task-oriented manager provides structure and clear direction. However, this does not mean that this person should be autocratic or even authoritarian.

Managers must also avoid coming into a new position with a fixed agenda for change, based on a style that may have achieved results before. A manager does not know enough about the current situation. The group may feel that the making changes based on success at her previous job and is not really trying to understand them as individuals. This can cause lots of resistance, not only from members of the work unit but from peers as well. Peers may be fearful of what a new manager is going to do, because the incoming manager is also part of a team.

The Transition Meeting

Companies should require incoming managers to have a one- or two-day transition meeting with group members at least by the managers second month on the job. Within the second month, the manager is still relatively new but has enough information about the job to feel comfortable. The meeting provides team members and the manager with a structure and enables the manager better. Holding such a meeting helps her to build relationships much faster that she could if he tried to build them one-on-one. This also allows the manager to demonstrate her abilities in a group situation and display leadership.

The transition meeting also provides the opportunity to take a closer look at the team’s ongoing projects. If any staff members have projects that they have invested time in, they have no idea whether the new manager is going to support those projects and whether the project will be continued. The transition meeting is a good time to focus on the work of the group and thereby support the business strategy.

After the transition meeting, managers should follow up with one-on-one sessions with each of the team members. This is because within that two-month period, no one has yet established a strong leader-subordinate relationship.

The team-building process is a long-term project. The amount of time it takes a new manager to build a productive team depends on how well she has managed the transition phase.

An effective team gets going within a six-to-eight month range. In the case of managers who do not manage the transition well, sometimes it takes as long as a year or more – or perhaps it never happens.

There are a number of pitfalls to team building. One of them is making personnel changes too quickly. Another involves falling into the trap of complacency.

If the manager is effective and builds what she perceives to be a cohesive team, the team may function together so smoothly that it may drift into a phase called “groupthink.”

At this juncture, cohesiveness – not productivity – becomes the goal. The group starts to make decisions that reinforce their good feelings for each time they reach a consensus.

As managers become more effective in building a team, the greater the chance is for groupthink to occur. Subsequently, employees fail to question each other because team harmony becomes the objective, not team effectiveness. To avoid groupthink, a manager should always keep a certain level of openness and conflict management alive in the team. Lack of conflict is not always harmony, it could be apathy.

 By Captain Sam Addaih (Rtd)

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