When leaders take on a new assignment or role, they replace the leader that came before them. While some prior leaders retire or move to their next assignment after a successful run, in many cases, leaders supplant a predecessor who was not up to the job. Following an ineffective leader and leading a team that has not proven successful in the past requires an optimistic strategic message: “The past has been good. The future will be great.”
Too often, new leaders who inherit a mess tend to believe that the team will be relieved that the cavalry has finally arrived, and they act and speak accordingly. Here’s the problem: Reminding the team that they have underperformed is a surefire way to create ill-will and resistance. No one wants to think they have squandered their efforts in the past. Trashing the former leader and illustrating just how bad performance has been will certainly get everyone talking … about what a jerk you are.
By honoring the past, new leaders begin rebuilding from a solid foundation of respect. The best way to establish credibility with the new team is to recognize and appreciate the previous results and those who helped to create them, no matter how dismal they might be. Even when they disapprove of past decisions and strategy, effective leaders avoid badmouthing previous choices when articulating a new path forward.
Telling people that they have been doing everything wrong and that you are here to save the day might make sense to you, but it erodes any chance the team will want to follow. The best leaders honor the last leader and the work the team performed under them. When a new leader begins with tribute, everyone becomes excited about the next chapter. The best leaders remember: It is not the past that honors leaders, but leadership that honors the past.
Reminds me of Dale Carnegie's "Don't criticize, condemn, or complain' and Admired Leadership's "Fast transitions make for better relationships." Both of these behaviors help me from putting my foot in my mouth almost daily. One behavior that helps me manage this is to think about what I am doing in my job today and how my future replacement would complain, condemn, or criticize it and then make adjustments accordingly.