When there’s a change in organizational leadership, the effects can be far-reaching or barely noticeable. That often depends on where in the hierarchy the leader sits (e.g., CEO, division president, local GM, or head of sales), as well as the type of business (e.g., industry, size, location).
Change in leadership can be voluntary (through promotion, retirement, or taking a position at another company) or involuntary (most notably due to poor performance or change in direction).
Business pressure and lackluster performance often lead to changes in leadership. Change in leadership creates opportunities for business, as long as you understand your established relationship with the company and are willing to carefully explore the potential to offer your services to the new leader.
New leaders may not make drastic changes like rebranding the company or eliminating featured products or services (although that could happen). The ripple effect largely stems from the reason for the leadership change. For example, if the company is tanking, then customers, analysts, and employees will be eager to see big, sweeping changes (e.g., growth and expansion or consolidation and contraction). But if a new leader succeeds a strong predecessor in a stable environment (such as when Tim Cook stepped in for Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple), then staying the course might be good enough for now.
It is important to remember that tolerance for poor performance or failing to seize opportunities are sure ways to shorten a leader’s tenure. Therefore, they’ll want to get grounded as quickly as possible and start to become effective soon after.
NFL Head Coaches: Lessons in Leadership Change
Football fans can likely relate to this time of year being punctuated not only by the playoffs but by the upheaval among teams (both pro and collegiate) through the firing and hiring of head coaches and their staffs. This is a major change in leadership. Few coaches are equally balanced as offensively or defensively minded. The Philadelphia Eagles fired long-time coach Andy Reid, who was offense-minded and replaced him with Oregon’s Chip Kelly, an offense-driven college-level coach, who is expected to rebuild the organization. If they had hired a defensive coordinator, that likely would have added to the complexity of the change.
Then, there’s leadership style. Sometimes, one leader isn’t better or worse than another, just different. The best example to illustrate this point might be found in the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. Quiet, reserved, dignified head coach Tony Dungy led the team from 1996 to 2001 and built a respectable, winning organization for the first time in the franchise’s history. When he left, he was replaced by Jon Gruden, who could be viewed as the polar opposite of Dungy. Gruden quickly took charge and led the team to the Super Bowl (and won).
Sometimes, a change is needed to take something to the next level. Dungy was by no means done his coaching career (he soon won his own Super Bowl in Indianapolis), but both organizations benefited from changes in leadership. So, when your organization changes leaders, how will you respond?
Questions and ideas to consider when there has been a change in leadership:
- Culture. What kind of culture or environment has the new leader come from? What is their background? Are they bringing “legacy” relationships with them (in the form of employees, vendors, or clients)? Are they ready to make changes?
- Getting Grounded. How quickly will the new leadership understand the existing business situation? What assistance might they need in appreciating the nuances of your company?
- Future Plans. What are the new leader’s plans? How will your function and team be affected? Are you married to the past or looking toward the future?
- Impact and Influence. You may not have direct contact with the new leader, but others above you do. How can your closest conduit to the new leader best serve that person, and how can you best serve your contact? Are you able to effectively manage upward?
The most important part in assessing opportunities created by a change in leadership is truly understanding the new leader’s values and cultural mindset. By exploring their background and goals, you can make the most informed decisions about choosing the right business path for you and your team.
What can you do?
- Be Inquisitive. Ask a lot of questions! It is imperative to wholly understand any differences based on culture and background when exploring a relationship with new leadership and potential business.
- Help Get Them Acclimated. Facilitate planning sessions to share the best business practices and develop a plan to rapidly immerse them and help them to understand the business. Planning sessions also create face-to-face opportunities to define what your possible role could be.
- Current/Future Plans. Offer process mapping to identify the current state of the business and the potential future state of business — with your services involved.
- Know Your Talent. Take an “inventory” of resources and assets that the company has in place by doing talent audits and skill profiles. When changes occur, who will fit into the new culture? Who might need to receive additional training or be transferred out or sacrificed? What types of people might you need to hire?
- Be Flexible. Be willing to adapt to new ways of thinking. Few leaders will resist the urge to make their mark when taking a new position — it will happen eventually. You need to recognize that while you and your company may have standard ways of thinking and operating, your new leaders may bring new ideas and approaches. After all, they were put into that position for a reason, right? So, be open-minded when confronted with new challenges, and be prepared to ride a new wave.