Goodbye to All That

The Truth About Leaders Who Flunk 

One of my favorite podcasts, The Next Chapter, interviews authors about whether or not they’ve taken their own advice since they wrote their book and if they would add a new chapter since it was published.

I confess: I did an experiment and went against my own advice in a very important area.  I listened to news about one of my ex–organizations.  It almost did me in.

I had warned people not to do this.  I said: “Get ready for company news that explodes your fragile equilibrium.  Which is more painful?  The destruction of everything you built or the continuation of everything you built under a new chief who will claim it as her own?” 

What I hadn’t counted on was being Disappeared.  Colleagues who had also moved on had been Disappeared.  Huh?  What’s that?  Oh, that’s the sound of history shuffling into oblivion, located between East Somewhere and West Nowhere. 

Leadership Insecurity 

I can’t see the logic in this—neither for the organization nor the people in it.  My wish for you is to be the kind of leader who transitions without the need to negate all that came before you; a leader who is secure about who you are. 

Back in the day, when I started a new job, I went out of my way to call and visit the people who held the position before me.  They were a library of information.  Their willingness to share was gold.  I knew enough to sift through the data to figure out what was relevant and I was deeply appreciative.  I actually raised money to establish a scholarship in honor of one of these former leaders.  She deserved to be remembered for everything she built.

But now I find myself in Joan Didion territory.  Joan is the one who wrote the essay Goodbye to All That when she left New York for California.

What is All That? 

The egos, the dishonesty, the de-commissioning or reorganization of staff who were stars on “the old team,” the PR BS, the sharpened knives and false smiles, the lack of empathy, the plumping of myths, the same “new” problems, the tired conversations about the blunderers who manage to keep their jobs, the nonsensical aspirations, the march of the mediocre, the fear of the outsiders, the covert discrimination.

Aren’t you glad you moved on?  

One New Chapter:  The Fundamental Graces of Leadership

If I were to add one chapter to my book about transitions it would be about how strong leaders new to an organization integrate all of the positives and the people who came before them to drive change and make an even deeper impact. Here’s a sample of what they do:

• Skip the big book of instructions about where to get the security badge and turn to some of the bios of the people who built the organization.  Meet with them.  Learn from them.

• Have conversations with both key influencers and people on the ground, all of them.

• Form allies with peers in other divisions who knew the Previous Person and keep in touch with them on a scheduled basis.

• Make it a point to understand why the organization exists, why people love to come to work or don’t, and how to build from there.

You don’t want to be the leader (or be with one) who wears large erasers for shoes.  You know who I mean, the one who fails to deliver, but oh well, change the presentation, change the managers, have a retreat with snacks, and talk at whoever’s left.  

There are tens of thousands of books on leadership.  Amazon has a list of more than 57,000.  What I’m focused on are some of the fundamental graces of leadership.  

Be the leader who levels up again, who understands and amplifies the organization and all of the people who came before, are there now, and will carry on long after.

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