Six ghosts that haunt new leaders
New leaders are faced with six ghosts as they take over their role. They can choose which ones to befriend and which to exorcise.
‘Bhoothnath’ is this movie character – a ghost, as the name suggests – who does not allow any new tenants in the house he once occupied. Well, he and his avatars haunt the workplace too. Stalking many a new leader as they take over their new role.
A new leader’s main focus is on her first success; that critical milestone in the quest for acceptance, a personal ego boost that rings a new energy into the team–it isn’t easy! Everyone clamors for time and mental bandwidth. Colleagues, management, customers, team…everybody piling on seeking ‘immediate’ attention!
And then there’s Bhoothnath – adding to the confusion.
New leaders must fight their personal phasmophobia and put these annoying wraiths to rest for eternity or get bedeviled by them for a very long time:
- Bhoothnath – The ghost of leaders past: The ghost of a predecessor lingers on long after the individual has departed – the role, that is! The spoor of that personality and leadership style hangs around. Team members, linkages – internal and external – need to be given the message that things may be a little different from now on.
- Bhoothnath Returns: The worst predecessors are those who move out of the role, but still stay in the system – in a different business, or market. They often return to give their successors ‘friendly advice’, basis ‘feedback received’ – from some sneaky ‘loyalist’ feeding them gossip about the happenings in their erstwhile business. After all, they did bring it to where it is today and hence claim to have a stake in it! They don’t! It’s important to be polite. Thank you, but this is my watch now – please mind your own.
- The Apparition of the team: A friend at last! This one resides in the personal file cabinet along with the many stories that lie hidden therein. Performance histories, disciplinary actions, commendations, everything! Employee files contain factual information that can bring a leader up to speed. Much faster and better than a personal discussion with the predecessor who would be in a hurry to hand over and push off. This is the first indication a new leader gets about who the top performers, and the solid average ones, are.
- The Phantom of the poor performer: This one is pure mischief – hence the special mention! Suddenly active to impress the new boss, only knowledge of past performance can identify these ghouls. Their overbearing joie de vivre comes from the belief that a new leader means a new lease of life. A resetting of the clock for another round of partying! Armed with documented evidence – that’s all that works – it is important to have that conversation to tone down the rhetoric and bring focus on performance. An early difficult conversation is better than a painful one, after more missed targets and revenue losses.
- The Shadow of old promises: Old unfulfilled ‘promises’ also tend to land up on a new leader’s desk. ‘Promises’ of transfers (for personal reasons), compensation reviews, promotions…it would seem like Bhoothnath was god’s sibling! Well, some old promises may be valid, documented and in line with strategy. However, it is important that ‘promises’ that are not going to be fulfilled be laid to rest immediately. This shadow has the propensity to haunt forever.
- The Spirit of the network: Another friendly! Success is all about teamwork and networking. So what’s the team going to look like? Who will constitute the immediate team of direct reports? Which peers and internal partnerships are going to be most beneficial? Other line of business heads may seem like logical choices. However, don’t miss the HR head who can make an awesome partner. And the legal and finance head. Usually relegated to the second round, this group of ‘staff function heads’ can actually provide priceless support. This spirit needs to be nurtured.
Meanwhile, Bhoothnath is not easy to deal with – exorcism is excruciatingly difficult and dangerous. Yet it must be done. Tough calls will be taken; someone’s departure, someone’s PIP or someone’s relocation. Oh those poor, poor performers; such wonderful people!
A new leader also has to reiterate her commitment to the company values and policies. This could mean strong messages pertaining to timings, office decorum, language, dress code, compliance, respect for each other. A good people practice that motivates everyone into compliance.
An early focus on people practices builds a steady stepping stone to success – after all, people deliver success! It starts up a new faith. One that is critical for the leader to win her place at the front.
Yes, Bhoothnath will insist on getting in the way. New leaders need to assess his avatars and say… Boo!