Coming into an organization as a new leader is an event that will test the ability of even the best leader to manage the transition well. This is because change is an inevitable part of the process. Each leader has unique gifts and skills and they are hired because their gifts match the organizations needs at that time. So change is a given. Yet, that very change although needed, and even endorsed by those who hired the leader can be a difficult process. There are three reasons for this.
One. Regardless of your resume or accomplishments which may bring great hope to the organization, you as an individual do not yet have the trust of the staff. This is even more important if the previous leader had violated trust with the staff as you may be seen through their lens.
Two. You are coming with a vision for the future but there is often a DNA and a culture that will stand in your way until it is changed - if it needs to be changed. In other words, if culture needs to shift, that is perhaps your most important work because culture trumps everything (even the best leadership), Until you have a culture that will allow you to move forward without a drag on the organization, many of your efforts will prove futile.
Three. In most organizations you have two primary staff constituencies: those who represent the past and will cling to the ideals of the past and those who represent the future and want to move forward. How one deals with this will vary but a new leader needs to recognize that both groups exist and until there is alignment, some things will have to wait.
The key to navigating these three realities is to build as much trust with staff as quickly as possible. Trust is the most important coinage a new leader has so developing that bond of trust is the most important and pressing job.
Trust comes before most actions although taking some actions can actually build needed trust. This will be counter-intuitive for many leaders because leadership is all about action. New leaders come in with a vision and an outside perspective that allows them to see what others don't see and they are ready to move! What they don't understand is that those they lead can either make their life easier or harder depending on the degree of trust that exists. Trust can be built quickly if you have a strategy for doing so.
Here are proven ways to get to where we desire to go.
First: Honor the past but build for the future. Too many leaders act as if nothing done before their arrival has any significance, forgetting that the present staff was all part of the past to one degree or another. It is not necessary to criticize the past if one has a vision for the future. Honoring the past while you build for the future does not disenfranchise staff who were part of the past.
Second: Listen - a lot. Trust happens when individuals feel that their story and opinion counts. A new leader usually comes into their position with a well formed direction they intend to lead the organization. This a time to listen before revealing all that is on their mind. There is a large upside to this. In listening carefully to key staff, one can also make judgments as to whether they will fit in your preferred future. Listening builds trust in a significant way.
Third: Ask a lot of questions rather than making statements. Dialogue trumps telling every time and dialogue is nurtured by good questions. The answers to your questions also tell you a great deal about the thinking ability of staff, the vision and dreams that they have and the thoughtful nature of their responses.
I have realized on a number of occasions that if I had not taken the time to get to know staff I would have made poor decisions. I would have let people go I actually needed and I would have kept those who did not actually fit. Our first impressions may not be accurate and until there is dialogue one will not know.
As you listen, you are making judgments regarding people and strategies. Where there are things you strongly disagree with, keep your own counsel or speak only to those who can help you make necessary changes. Careless words to others will cost one needed trust.
Fourth, affirm everything and everybody that you can. You may not be able to affirm everything but you can affirm some things. The same is true with people. And remember, if there is a significant need for organizational change, it is because of a prior leader who allowed the organization to atrophy. There are staff who probably knew what was happening but their hands were tied. Don't blame them for what they were not responsible for. Be generous with your praise even if you intend to change many things. Criticism elicits no coinage. Affirm what you can and where you cannot, be light on criticism.
Fifth: be gracious even with those who won't be with you in the future. Graciousness costs you nothing. It is easy to be critical but the best leaders practice graciousness even when making needed changes. This means that we watch our words, our criticisms and our attitudes.
Sixth: Share your vision for the future but cast it in "wet cement" so that staff can dialogue with you on that vision. In order for your vision to become a shared vision you need to engage people in significant dialogue. One cannot just pronounce vision. And a new leader's vision will not prevail anytime soon unless he/she can bring staff along with them. Find multiple ways and venues to share a new vision for the future and engage in dialogue. Again, listen carefully. Staff may know things you don't know and will either be able to help you or hinder you.
Seventh: As new leaders we come in with our plans but we need to realize that an organization can change only as fast as people can react to the speed of change. The speed of change is directly connected to the speed of trust. The higher the trust level of staff the faster the change. The lower the level of trust the slower the change. What this means is that the speed of change we are proposing is only possible if we are paying equal attention to the speed of trust.
I have watched new leaders this transition because they believe that leadership is simply making the right calls. They made what they thought were the right calls but didn't listen to the wisdom of others, nor did they develop the level of trust they needed to bring staff with them. Eventually staff rebelled or constituents pushed back and it was over - especially true in nonprofits and churches.
Remember the speed of change is directly related to the speed of trust. Change always requires trust if you desire to being people with you.
So what is the most important job of a new leader who desires to bring change to an organization? It is the building of trust because trust is the coinage that allows them to lead in new directions and in new ways. The faster that trust can be developed, the faster the change can be implimented.