Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Challenges of New Leadership

Change is a good thing, right?

Businesses and organizations refine and adjust their strategy based on many things, including the changing needs of their client-base and the market place. One of the most significant catalysts for change is new leadership.

Once the announcement of a new leader is made, the change process begins. 

And then, all the people say, “Oh, joy; a new leader who will want to change everything.”

As they say, change is never easy. There are multiple upon multiple studies showing that just the idea of change causes fear and stress for those involved. However, sometimes new leadership is not just necessary, but also vital to organizational growth and, even perhaps its very survival.

New leaders, be they CEOs or mid-level managers, certainly bring their own personality and management style to the top of the table. If they come from outside the organization, the most valuable asset they bring is not their education or years of experience, but a perspective quite different from those on the inside.

Good leaders know that recognizing and utilizing differing perspectives to make decisions about what must be changed is crucial. The difficulty in implementation comes from team members with the “We’ve Always Done It This Way” mentality, and those mired in GroupThink. Without trudging down the rabbit hole discussions of those two issues, I think it is safe to say that they have their own particular challenges which require situation-specific actions to address.

When I began my career in the early 1980’s, organizational leaders based decisions on input from their division or department heads, who gathered data from their subordinates in a very controlled fashion. Employees worked 8am – 5pm (or 9am – 5pm), Monday through Friday, and spent evenings and the weekends with their families.

Thirty years later, more Millennials are moving into positions of leadership, and facing an ever-evolving multi-generational workforce with different, and often competing, demands for engagement and working conditions. The younger generation not only expects, but demands to have a seat at the table and expects to move to another company in a few years to take the next step in their careers. They also don’t want to watch the clock, or be constrained by having to be in an office every day.

Older workers, such as those from the Greatest Generation and my Baby Boomer generation need to feel respected for the knowledge and experience for which we have worked so hard for many years to earn. We also need a seat at the table, or at least know that the new, younger leadership has heard and acknowledged the issues we bring to light. Like the younger crowd, I love working from home, but I also like the idea of having evenings and weekends free.

The leadership challenge with a multi-generational work force is finding a way to meet the differing needs, while building a cohesive and open organizational culture that allows and encourages employees to be passionate about their work and their organization’s success.

In the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell from his book, My American Journey,

"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."  

Stepping into a new leadership role is an exciting experience. It is an opportunity to develop a vision for excellence and innovation, and to share that vision with an actively engaged organization. All leaders face challenges, however, it is their response to those challenges that determines their success.

If you have been a new organizational or business leader, what words of wisdom would you share with those who want to be, and one day will be, a new leader?

NOTE: This post also appears on LinkedIn.

Before founding her own consulting firm in 2013, Dawn Gannon served as a respected project management and administrative operations professional in the military, higher education, and women’s healthcare fields for 25 years. She holds a Masters of Business Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Management from American Public University, is a contributor on LinkedIn, and the author of the Management in Motion blog.

Dawn currently serves as the Past Chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Women’s Council, and teaches health and safety classes for the American Red Cross. As an infertility survivor she has been a featured speaker within the Fertility Community, and written numerous articles on the topic of childfree living.