HOW do you follow a legend? It has sometimes been said that Steve Jobs, newly retired CEO of Apple, is an industrial icon who is an inventor, innovator and computing pioneer. He is considered an outright genius, and a legend whose legacy in the computing world covers over 30 years. After all, what would we do without the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod and the Mac? I am sure you will agree that his impact will be felt for many, many years to come. The challenge for the new leader, then, is how do you follow such a legend?
The challenge of replacing legacy leaders is that people attribute qualities and characteristics that often stretch the truth. Those individuals external to the organization will recall written articles or media clips and will thus more easily remember traits such as interpersonal skills, charm, credibility, patience or compassion.
Those internal to the organization will focus on the legacy leader’s sense of courage, ability to take risks, their intelligence and their accomplishments. They tend to overlook any failings such as poor employee relations, micromanagement or the fact their cherished leader was indeed a bully.
As you can imagine, then, arriving as a new organizational leader following a much beloved legend will be a substantial challenge for anyone. In fact, that old adage of your first 100 days will surely take on new meaning. The following tips will assist you through this next venture of your career.
Know yourself well, inside and out. Know what motivates you; identify your vulnerabilities and define your emotional strengths in preparation to deal with the loss and change your employees will experience.
Review and be cognizant of the wide range of political skills you will need; assess your own political acuity and determine if you will need assistance in this area.
Review your values and personal standards, your attitude, your attentiveness to people issues and determine how to leverage these traits to create success and develop your own legacy.
Understand the change management steps. First, you’ll experience the challenges of early stage transition; then, you’ll immerse yourself in the issues of the organization; next, you’ll begin to see a vision for reshaping the organization and finally, you will begin to institutionalize your changes. Keep in mind these transitions require anywhere from one to three years of time.
There is no one set of rules for making the transition into a leadership position, let alone one vacated by a legacy leader. The key is to evaluate the lay of the land as quickly as possible. Where are the organizational strengths? Where are the challenges? Is there a good balance of skills on your senior team? Determine how to take advantage of this mix to help move the organization forward.
Make yourself visible to employees. They want to know who you are and what you stand for. They want to know how you compare to their former leader as they seek a sense of security. Meet and talk with employees. Interview them, hold focus groups. Get at the pulse of the organization.
Make yourself visible to customers and clients. Reach out and visit key stakeholders. Circulate newsletters, use your website. Be proactive. Manage by walking around.
Adapt an open door policy, be approachable. Invite input and discussion. Listen and learn from those who have the experience and expertise. Encourage your employees, empower them to make decisions as well as recommendations.
Continue building personal credibility by confronting latent problems that former leaders may have been reluctant to address; take corrective action before these challenges explode into bigger, high-profile issues. Develop and communicate short-term plans in blocks of three months as you move toward longer term strategic goals. Focus on key short-term wins and visible improvements. Create a celebratory event to mark success and build employee engagement. Take more time to develop a compelling vision and a long-term strategic plan; involve leaders and employees as a means to build a shared vision that in turn creates organizational energy and momentum. Conduct a thorough assessment of your team resources; identify individuals who demonstrate the energy, drive, enthusiasm and commitment to your goals. Involve these individuals in special change projects. Build a coalition of supporters by promoting these individuals to roles that will help leverage support for your goals.
Be a role model for courage and tenacity. Make the tough personnel calls when necessary. Move people out of the organization who don’t support the vision and need to move along in their career. Identify and source out new candidates who will help move your organization forward.
Zero in on caring for people. Engage your employees in continuous learning and focus on developing strong teams. Legacy leaders encourage everyone to become a leader; show appreciation and build each person’s self-confidence.
As the organizational leader, your role is to make those critical decisions. At the same time, you need to know when you need to ask for help. Legacy leaders are not afraid to reach out to others for advice; they value learning from others.
Your role is to continually readjust and refocus to ensure you are not only meeting market needs but also taking advantage of opportunities that will catapult you and your organization to further success.
It’s been said that leadership is not so much about “leaving” a legacy but rather it is all about “living” a legacy. This means that leaders, especially those following a high-profile legacy leader in an organization need to think about creating their own leadership legacy right from the start. In other words, your legacy story is being shaped and written every day as you go about your career. It’s a living story, not something to be scripted a few months prior to retirement. Nor is your legacy a story that can be rewritten after the fact.
Therefore, as you enter the domain of a legacy leader, it is critical that you bring your own legacy building strategy. The tips and guidelines shared above will assist you to become that distinguished legacy leader.