Establishing Relationships for Future Success

by Tim Yeomans

When the New Leader Arrives

Leadership changes take place for many reasons. New leadership is often a targeted effort by the organization to improve current performance and productivity. While a singular focus on improved performance is a reasonable expectation for a new leader, it may place that individual in a situation where their first interaction with team members (employees) is defined singularly by their newly minted positional authority.

Being sent in to “right the ship”, to place certain staff members on “notice”, or to “shake things up” are traditional marching orders that many new leaders receive. These management/leadership expectations applied in the absence of an established working relationship can result in fear and resistance occurring as the initial steps toward improved performance are undertaken, thus limiting the long-term capacity for improvement.

A traditional approach of instituting a new direction, through edict and the application of positional authority, fundamentally begs the question of whether short term results are the goal, or if a more intentional approach leading to sustainable improvements in productivity are the target of the organization?

A successful strategy that highly relational organizations use for each leadership transition is intentionally investing time and resources for the incoming leader, prior to the transition, to spend 25-30 minutes in one-on-one conversations with each team member.

These conversations consist of brief inquiries about the staff member’s interests and personal experiences, what they enjoy about their job, the challenges they find with their assignment, and anything else that might be helpful for the incoming leader to know. These few simple questions create an opportunity for the new leader to engage in a conversation that is both positive and non-threatening as their first act of leadership.

In contrast to simply undertaking a new direction with the organization and having team members guess at the intentions of the new leader, the overt and intentional act of listening and engaging staff allows the leader the opportunity to establish a modicum of trust. This strategy implemented consistently across an organization provides incoming leaders with a positive relational foundation as well as extremely valuable information about where opportunities for system improvements may reside.

The input which is shared from team members during their one-on-one conversations with the new leader frequently develops into clear themes for improvement. We have found that addressing the areas identified by the team often aligns closely with the direction that the organization must take to better serve our customers. When the time arrives for our new leader to address the assembled team they have, through their individual conversations, created for themselves the opportunity to say

“…after having listened to each of you, this is what I heard… and this is how your input helps shape the direction of our initial steps together…”. 

By carefully listening to each employee and subsequently sharing publically the themes of what was conveyed, leaders can send the powerful leadership message that we will face our issues collectively and work together to solve them. This transition strategy, implemented with fidelity, is a foundation for creating working and learning environments where leaders are empowered to come alongside team members and work with them to improve performance and productivity.