When placed in command – take charge.
-- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf
In this series of posts we have been examining what it means to take charge, to take command, to assume the role of a leader. As we approach the President's 100th day in command, I hope you are able to stop for a second and think about your own transition into your current position and whether you (or the Commander in Chief) have effectively taken charge. In the last post, we looked at what it means to take command. We’ll close with a few final thoughts on how to be successful as a new leader.
Get early wins. Communicate a message to the organization that highlights success yet humbly promotes your proposed agenda. Celebrate with vigor. Champion those who “get it.” Help your team see the greatness you envision through each small victory.
Rudolph Giuliani targeted the “squeegee guys” early during his tenure as New York City mayor. Success in eliminating the relatively small nuisance caused by the actions of that group of unwanted window washers sent an early message that change was possible. The people of New York, the new Giuliani administration, and the “squeegee guys” saw very quickly that this “take charge” mayor had bold plans for the city.
In Detroit, I watched the local news on the evening on which I had taken command of the Corps of Engineers district there. I was shocked to see them blast my organization for allowing a bunch of rebels to party on some island that we “owned” on the Great Lakes. First I was surprised to learn that we actually owned an island! I also learned quickly that this was an important issue to many stakeholders, important enough to be the lead story on the local news, and that I should probably get involved.
It became an early opportunity for my subordinate staff to see how I would operate. I assembled my key leaders, assessed the situation, solicited recommendations, and made a decision. I worked with my public affairs staff to develop a communication plan and contacted local officials to let them know what we were doing. And when we were done, we conducted an After Action Review to see what we could learn from this event. It was an early opportunity to leverage what I had learned in military leadership (far removed from anything having to do with island parties) and to show some level of competence to my new team. It certainly helped my confidence and, I believe, gave my subordinates some confidence in their new leader. I put that in the early win category.
When taking command, leaders must understand from DAY ONE that it is your ship! You have responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly. You cannot take credit for successes and blame all shortcomings on your predecessor. You own it all!
Don’t trash your predecessor and his/her accomplishments. Balance professional courtesies with the need to move out on your own path. Don’t lose your team by minimizing all the things they may have done before you arrived. Major course corrections can be misinterpreted as a lack of confidence in the team and their skills. Exercise caution to not portray your new organization as completely broken. If change is required, ensure you have adequately framed, and communicated, the problem. Talk about what “we” need to do to be successful in the current operating environment, versus what “they” must do to address past failures.
Keep your balance. Remember that most leadership opportunities are a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t try to solve all the problems in the first day. Ensure that your personal priorities are consistent and that you initiate a sustainable battle rhythm from the very first day.
Don’t pretend to know everything. You don’t. Solicit input to shape your decision-making and be humble enough to ask for help.
The principal task for new “take charge” leaders is to build trust with their team. Understand that your subordinates will not care what you know until they know that you care. Your early actions will set the tone for the culture you wish to establish. Be positive. Listen, build consensus, and communicate with passion and persistence.
It is a well known fact of leadership that the higher we climb, the more we show our butts! “Take charge” leaders’ actions will be examined under a microscope – from the beginning. Be prepared. Do your homework. Then jump in and start leading. Get a few early wins. Fix what is broken. Make decisions. Shape your organization consistent with your vision. Communicate with passion. You’re in charge. So…be in charge! Your new troops are counting on you. That’s why taking charge is…Leader Business!
Join us on Wednesday for a look at the President’s 100th day and a brief analysis of how he has done in taking command!
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