I learned a very valuable lesson many years ago that could have derailed years of effort. It’s one that I have frequently shared, as well as coached others that experienced similar situations.
Here we go. Early in my career, I was promoted. I was excited about my next challenge, but sad I would be moving away from the family (my team) I grew to admire. We were a close group, we had been through many trials and tribulations, which created an even tighter connection between all of us. Now they would have a new leader, one that I did not choose as he was appointed from higher ups. He was distinctly different in his personality, in his approach to people, and how he chose to deploy new processes. Although he would report to me, he was now the department’s direct contact, their immediate supervisor and decision-maker.
Here is what I learned:
- Conflict was real
Changing the authoritative figure of a department created chaos. Our styles were different, and change acceptance was difficult. People were in the denial and resistant stage of change. They believed that the “new guy’s style” was not going to be a good fit and he was going to lower the department’s performance. I, too, felt the same way. Conflict was alive. Chaos was ignited.
- It was hard to let go
I looked at the members of my department as family. I knew about their son’s latest little league game, their daughter’s first steps, and why they thought changing our repair day procedures would make it safer. I enjoyed this type of working relationship, the open conversations, and the trust we built over the years that created such an engaging work environment. We all worked together and achieved great success. I now had to let go of that first line of contact. Their new supervisor would have these discussions. He was now immediately accountable for the department’s performance. They needed to turn to him first.
- Four stages of changes must be experience by all
The four stages of change: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment are universal. My team and I did not see the forest through for the trees. We did not believe there was a need for changes in our procedures, or changes in the operations of our repair days, etc. Plus this new leadership style appeared to be cold, impersonal and self-centered.
It was a rainy afternoon when I was approach by an operator who confronted me about his disappointment in his new department supervisor. He told me that this “new guy” did not care about the team like I did and his processes were just wrong. It occurred to me during this conversation that it was not what my replacement was requesting but how he was requesting it. It was 180 degrees different from my style, an approach that made it difficult for the team to accept, thus creating tension and chaos.
Were the changes bad? No, it was just different than what we were accustom to doing. At that point in time I personally reached the last stage of change – commitment. I needed to be a champion of the new supervisor, not a hindrance to him because he was not me! Therefore, I publicly began to support him. I took the time to lead the team through the stages of change. I knew this was the best way to support him as well as unite the department. The team slowly and methodically moved through the stages of change until they, too were committed to the new leader.
- A shared vision will bridge leadership styles
The final revelation for me was the fact that even though my replacement and our leadership styles were different, we actually had a lot in common and we both wanted success for the department, our teams and ourselves. Our approaches were ethical, straightforward, and comprehensive and our decisions were all driven to reach the same end goal.
That was the connection that drove our organization in achieving outstanding performance; we were all heading to the same North Star.
I have told this story to many people who were struggling with the thought that what they worked so hard to build was dying right in front of them. However, now they can look at it as their legacy as a leader, embracing a new era, all with a common focus of success.
Have you ever experience a situation such as this? What was your response?
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Written by: Carey G MacConnell
Vice President & Co-Founder of Voyager Leadership Training LLC
Growing confident, competent leaders through simple proven techniques.
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