How to Transition as a Leader, in Three Acts

May 31, 2017

by Sam Wells

Sam Wells discusses three challenges leaders face during a transition and three ways to address them.

Here is Sam Wells (from a recent email exchange with Faith & Leadership), discussing three challenges leaders face during a transition and how to address them:

1. Challenge: The temptation to regard your previous institution, where of course you licked everything into shape, as a template for your new organization.

If your new organization has a high self esteem, it will be insulted to be compared to anything else; if it has a low self esteem, it will quickly tire of hearing how wonderful your last place was, and will justifiably wonder why you didn’t stay there.

Solution: Only refer to your previous institution when specifically asked about it (in other words, probably never).

2. Challenge: The temptation to walk around your new institution rather as a new occupant walks around an apartment, making horrified faces and mocking glances, as if to say “I don’t know who was here before, and why they imagined magnolia was a good color for the sitting room or white for the bathroom.”

Things likely are the way they are because good people have tried alternatives and settled on what works, and a dominant constituency likes things this way -- otherwise they’d have changed them or gone elsewhere.

Solution: Ask lots of questions about why things are how they are and be slow to give your opinion even when it’s sought.

3. Challenge: To love a new set of people, even when at first they may seem very different or unlovable.

The people you have not made time to see in your first 6-8 weeks will always remember the clear statement that they’re not part of the inside crowd.

Solution: Get someone to draw up a list of the 50 key people in the new place and do whatever it takes to spend 30 min with each one in the first 6-8 weeks. By the time you’ve done that you’ll know what needs doing and who you need to talk to before you do it.
Leadership Development