• Thursday, May 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Leaders on the brink

The essence of follower-focused leadership

Leadership change, while often a sign of organisational dynamism, can also be a harbinger of stress and uncertainty. When leaders transition into new roles, the aftershocks can ripple through the entire company, shaking the foundations of team morale, productivity, and retention.

Read also: A crisis of leadership: Public disillusionment in Nigeria

“The worst-case scenario, a leader’s departure due to stress, begets further turmoil: a loss of institutional knowledge and the costs of recruiting and training a successor.”

The promotion that once spelled triumph can quickly morph into a trial by fire. Newly minted leaders, despite their ambition and past achievements, may find themselves grappling with a steep learning curve and the daunting task of establishing their footing. This precarious phase can last months, if not longer, and the danger lies not just in personal struggle but in the potential systemic effects it may trigger.

The perils of “Leaders on the Brink” are manifold. A leader under duress can inadvertently erode team spirit, dampen productivity, and accelerate turnover. The worst-case scenario, a leader’s departure due to stress, begets further turmoil: a loss of institutional knowledge and the costs of recruiting and training a successor.

What exacerbates the situation is the prevalent culture of stoicism in leadership. Leaders, driven by the desire to make a positive impression, often don an armour of smiles and confidence, concealing the struggles they face and the pace at which they may be trailing. This veneer of resilience can blind an organisation to the true costs of a rocky leadership transition.

The crux of the matter begs two questions: How can we gauge the real toll these transitions exact on our organisations? And what steps can we take to steer these transitions towards success?

The journey to successful leadership transitions begins with cultivating a culture where open communication and vulnerability are not just accepted but encouraged. When leaders can express their challenges without fear of judgement, they are less likely to feel isolated and more likely to seek and receive help.

Establishing mentorship programmes is a strategic move to guide new leaders through the labyrinth of their roles. Pairing them with experienced mentors provides a sounding board for concerns and a source of sage advice. Additionally, leadership coaching can offer personalised strategies to handle the specific challenges of the transition.

A proactive approach to leadership transitions involves a commitment to development programmes that equip leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge. These programs should be tailored to address the gaps that new leaders often encounter and to reinforce their strengths. Such investment is not a mere expense but a bulwark against the potential costs of failed leadership transitions.

Organisations must recognise that support for new leaders is not a one-time event but a continual process. Regular check-ins, access to resources, and an environment that champions growth and learning are essential to nurturing a leader’s evolution.

The end goal of any strategy aimed at supporting leaders on the brink is not just to avoid negative outcomes but to foster a leadership cadre marked by resilience and the ability to thrive in the face of change. When leaders are equipped to handle transitions effectively, they become exemplars of adaptability and growth, inspiring their teams and cementing the organisation’s success.

Leaders on the brink need not teeter over the edge into the abyss of stress and organisational disarray. With thoughtful approaches that prioritise transparency, support, and development, businesses can transform potential pitfalls into opportunities for leadership and organisational advancement.

To operationalise these strategies, consider implementing structured transition programmes that begin well before the new leader assumes their role and continue systematically throughout their initial tenure. These programmes should include the following::

Pre-transition planning:

Outlining clear expectations, key objectives, and the scope of the new role can help leaders prepare mentally and strategically before they step into their new position.

Onboarding processes:

A structured onboarding programme can provide new leaders with a roadmap for their first few months, offering clarity and reducing the anxiety that comes with ambiguity.

Regular feedback loops:

Instituting regular feedback sessions, not just for the new leader but also from them, can ensure any issues are identified and addressed early on. This can include 360-degree feedback mechanisms that offer holistic insights into how the transition is perceived by all stakeholders.

Support networks:

Beyond formal mentorship, creating peer networks and support groups can offer leaders informal channels to share experiences, challenges, and strategies with others who can empathise and provide peer-level support.

Resilience training:

Workshops that focus on building resilience can help leaders develop the emotional and mental fortitude to navigate the stresses and challenges of their new roles.

Succession planning:

Cultivating a culture that encourages internal talent development ensures that transitions are not abrupt but part of a well-orchestrated plan with ready and able internal candidates prepared to step up when the time comes.

By addressing these key areas, organisations can mitigate the risks associated with leadership transitions. More importantly, they can empower their leaders to not just survive their new roles but to thrive and drive their teams to greater heights.

In this complex tapestry of leadership and change, the thread that binds success is the acknowledgment that leaders are human, too. They are not infallible. They require support structures just as much as any other member of the organisation. When businesses recognise and act on this truth, they lay the groundwork for a leadership dynamic that is robust, empathetic, and primed for the challenges of the modern business landscape.

Dr. Toye Sobande is a strategic leadership expert, lawyer, public speaker, and trainer. He is the CEO of Stephens Leadership Consultancy LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm offering creative insight and solutions to businesses and leaders. Email: [email protected]