Succeeding Mr. Wonderful

Transitioning into a new leadership role is difficult in and of itself, and this difficulty can be compounded when the person who are replacing was an exceptional leader - one who was adored by the staff, respected by their peers, and had a solid reputation for accomplishment within the company.

There's no point in attempting to measure up: the new leader will be on shaky legs, and will take time to gain competence in the new role and earn the respect of his peers and the loyalties of his subordinates.

There are some suggestions that the new leader may attempt to emulate the qualities of the old, which is a recipe for disaster: simply said, he can't be the same person as the one he succeeded, and shouldn't try to emulate.

However, it is a delicate and possibly incendiary situation, and a few tips are offered for succeeding a revered leader.

Assess the Revered Leader's Legacy

Primarily, do your homework to find out what led the leader to be revered. When possible talk to him before you take over the chair, and get his assistance in helping his people make the transition. You can also have a candid conversation with your new subordinates to find out what they valued most about their former boss.

Compare the Legacy to Your Mandate

This information you gather about the legacy of the former leader is not to be used to emulate the old leader, but to understand the situation before you came - the "present state" from which you must transition to your own style of leadership.

It is also important to understand your mandate: there is a reason that you, specifically, were chosen for the assignment. Chances are you are expected to do things differently than the previous leader, achieve different results. These are the areas where it is most critical to make a swift and decisive transition.

Spell Out Your Mandate

Share your analysis with your staff, quite openly: be specific about the differences between your standards and those of your predecessor, and the rationale for the difference. The example provided is of a leader who did this one-on-one to gather intelligence about resistance, and used that intelligence to better focus his message.

Get the Right People on Board

In any group of people, there are trend-setters, key individuals whose attitude will influence the attitude of the entire group. These are the first people you should get on board.

It's also important to weed out mediocrity: those who will not support your mandate, either through stubbornness or plain incompetence. Some people will get off the bus on their own, recognizing that they're in for a struggle if they stay. Others will have to be ejected, in a manner that won't be destructive to the morale of those you wish to stay behind.

Ultimately, anyone who does not support your agenda will not be helpful in achieving it, and their actions may be counterproductive.