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Things you should do when replacing a controversial leader

Christian Fernsby |
But when replacing a poor or controversial leader, you may have to take accountability for your predecessor’s mistakes, while simultaneously creating a new vision for the organization.

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Managing all of these tensions can be challenging for even the most seasoned leaders, Andrew Blum writes for HBR.

Good leaders acknowledge the past realities, including the likelihood that any leader, no matter how poor, did something right.

You will probably have employees supportive of previous leadership, and they will have mixed views on what went wrong before and what has to be done differently. New leaders are well advised to acknowledge any positives that a predecessor brought while also openly discussing the trauma and damage they created within the enterprise.

Most bad leaders’ actions are, in some part, rooted in good intentions. But often even the best of intentions have unintended consequences or worse, result in collateral damage.

Often, we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. Reminding people of this doesn’t absolve the previous leader, but it does humanize outgoing leadership and creates room for forgiveness. As the saying goes “to err is human, to forgive divine.”

Many new leaders falter when they simply see themselves as the corrective force to their predecessors without investing the time to understand the full impact of the previous regime or by failing to include their teams in creating the future. You don’t automatically become a good leader merely by taking over for a bad one.

Listen to people who felt the adverse effects of the previous leader and use that information to inform your vision.

By acknowledging the gap between the actions and intentions of a previous leader, recommitting to your own vision, and asking the people under your leadership what they need, you can be on the path to not only replacing a bad leader, but becoming a much more effective leader yourself.


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