On Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, prominent search consultant and author William Vanderbloemen predicted that 2021 will be a year of extremely high turnover. I think its already underway. A surprising number of charities have transitioned their first chair leader (Executive Director, CEO, Lead Pastor, Czarina?) in the midst of this year of dramatic uncertainty.
What’s it like to come into the top role of an organization experiencing phenomenal stress, constant dramatic change, and with strict limitations on the ability to be together with your new team?
All the well established First 90 Days strategies have to be approached in completely different ways, if they work at all.
Building trust with people who are living in fear and turmoil (in both the global sense and for the wellbeing of their immediate loved ones) when you can’t have team building events, staff retreats, or even casual time hanging out at lunch or over a coffee is difficult.
3-5 Year Strategic Plans have been largely abandoned and the sense of impending doom from the lasting economic impacts of COVID-19 has made budgeting feel like reading tea leaves.
Programming models are in constant flux and we don’t really know when anything resembling stability will return or what it will look like if it does.
So what can a new leader do to establish credibility and give direction?
Here are three very practical things newly arrived leaders can do that will help them succeed.
1. Prioritise Relationships: As obvious as this may seem, the more dependent we are becoming on digital dynamics the more essential it is that we feel connected. Invest time in getting to know the people at every level of your organization as much as you can. Risking a little vulnerability and learning to laugh together will have significant lasting impact for everything you will want to do for as long as you stay in that role. People first.
2. Push Pause: Many organizations are running way faster than a sustainable pace and have been for most of a year. People are drained. Without intentionally interrupting the way things are going you may well be grinding toward a dangerous decline. No one wants to close programs when people are in great need, but finding ways to ease off or even shut down for a bit may be crucial to lasting impact. New leaders often want to rush into things to make their mark. Don’t. Taking your time and giving space for your team to breathe a little is responsible leadership.
3. Play Your Cards: There are questions you can ask as a recent arrival that you won’t be able to after you’ve been there for a couple years. There are decisions you can make in a time of crisis that won’t fly when things are more stable. The New Kid card and the Crisis card allow you to understand and expose things that are often avoided and have people accept the changes you need to make even if they are costly. Don’t make change for change’s sake to try to prove to the staff or board that you deserve your new job; but when you are convinced that something needs to be done, do it decisively.
There is almost always some level of insecurity or imposter syndrome that comes with being the new leader. These circumstances amplify that for many of us. And yet the need for effective leadership may be higher now than ever. This is a time for leaders to demonstrate wisdom and courage regardless of how long they’ve held their role.
If you’re trying to figure out leading in a new role this year one of the best things you can do is intentionally build a small group of advisors who can help you process your situation and decisions, and explore who you are in the midst of it. If you’re not sure who to ask to support you, get in touch with me. I may be able to help.