Transitioning from one leader to the next is difficult. It is more complex if the new leader is coming in from outside of the organization, requiring an orientation period for the new leader, but seamless transitions happen when the outgoing leader introduces the incoming to leader to direct reports and key clients. Understanding stakeholders and where they exist within the relationship of the organization sets the new leader off on the right foot. When transitioning occurs, it is important to learn about the job, the challenges, culture, employees, and clients. From that learning point on, the new leader must create their own path forward.

Gratitude for the Past

Acknowledge the contributions of the replaced leader. Express gratitude for predecessors who built the organization. In any organization there are employees who were emphatically supportive of previous leadership and others who are looking forward to change. New leaders must remember that successors were never idle, and they accomplished their vision during their tenure. The inbound leader seeking greater effectiveness and areas for growth while stressing a maintenance of supported organizations. New leaders are charged to both maintain strong connections internal and external to the organization while building new ones.

Keep, Discard, Create

While new leaders acknowledge the gap between previous leader’s intentions and the outcomes, they must create a vision, understanding what worked what they want to create.

During the first months into a new leadership position a new leader must really take in what is said to understand what is needed to evolve. Ask how each individual or group can grow by framing discussion topics around what a new leader can do to open doors or change systems to better focus on the work employees hired to do. Leaders entering jobs in 2021 are noticing that during the months of the pandemic, over management crept in. This impacted employees and the results are both burnout and micromanagement. This problem is far greater than just the inability to delegate but the passive creation of obstacles preventing employees from doing their jobs. New leaders have this additional challenge to both dissuade from other leaders’ conduct and reinforce the reduction of this habit that crept into the management.

Don’t Rush Change

Wade slowly into change, preventing the temptation to rush into making change. Instead, seek to understand. In this regard, experiences matter. As a new leader gets to know employees and acknowledge their feelings they can listen to employees and take their lessons, from the past, to heart. A new leader must habitually ask if they find themselves valuing results over people. If a new leader envisions employees through the lens of results, there may be unreasonable goals set and it can drive talent away. Same goes for unreasonable expectations where either a lack of a goal or an unrealistic one causes employees to stop investing their time or talents because they lack meaning in their work. Show flexibility and encourage teams to take ownership and find creative solutions. By not forcing change but showing employees things will be different a new leader better positions themselves for success.

Moving forward

A new leader must create a future distinct from the past. They must evolve and adapt. Successful leaders encourage autonomy, scale back management, and recognize that less is more. When people can concentrate on their own duties it results in getting more done. Transitions are difficult but critical to keeping organizations flexible and learning with a vision for the future. New leaders are best poised for success by acknowledging where the organization exists, seeking to understand, and then setting their own goals for the future.

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Candice Frost is an active duty Army officer and a leadership consultant. Her work in intelligence on the Army Staff provides her unique insights on the highest levels of leadership in DoD. She is a public speaker who focuses on mentorship and leader development. She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached at