On Being the New Sheriff

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On Being the New Sheriff

As of noon today, for those of us in the US, there will be, as we say, a new sheriff in town. Based on the popular vote, more than half (about 54%) of those who voted in November’s presidential election were disappointed in its outcome. But the Electoral College vote is what counts, quirks and all, and so there we have it.

Because I’ve not been asked to proffer advice to the incoming president, I’ll refrain from doing so. But the rest of us – those who don’t have our names on skyscrapers – often find ourselves, willingly or otherwise, put in new positions of leadership, taking over from someone else. Here are some things that will help make that transition work better, when you become the new boss:

  1. Remember that, in all likelihood, you were not elected at all, even by a minority, to your new leadership position. You were probably appointed. Your followers may, or may not, be happy with your being there, and you may have got the job over someone else you’re now being asked to lead.
  2. Every new leader wants to make changes. The wisest ones take a measured approach. Don’t change everything at once. Pay attention to the natural human resistance to change. If the first changes are seen as being beneficial to your team, then more painful changes may be easier to swallow later. And above all, strategically communicate those changes. Here’s what’s changing. Here’s why. Here’s how it will affect you.
  3. If you’re replacing a popular leader, honor their legacy, and learn from their successes. If not, keep the badmouthing of your predecessor to pretty much zero. There’s just nothing to be gained by it. Leadership is, after all, the earned consent of followers. Your job is to earn your team’s followership, in your own right, irrespective of who sat in the desk before you.
  4. Rather than entering with guns blazing, try this: Make your first question “How can I help make your job easier, or make you more successful with it?” If you get resistance to that question, let me know. I’ll be surprised.
  5. Don’t fall in love with the trappings of leadership. It’s easy to do, especially if you’re at a new level, for you, on the org chart. If trappings exist, don’t flaunt them.
  6. And finally, remember who leadership is all about. Hint: it’s not you.
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