As a leader, walking into a situation where trust and relationships have been broken and being expected to make things right can be daunting and painful. Stepping into a situation like this means your predecessor failed at their job and responsibilities, and you have been asked to fix that which has been broken. However, picking up the pieces to rebuild comes with great opportunity and growth. Do not let the foundation that was set before you be the foundation in which you think you need to build on.
If you are walking into a toxic leadership situation, take a moment and just observe before you take any actions or make any decisions. One of the best assets a leader can have is the ability to observe and reflect. Take pause of the situation and just observe. Instead of seeking to immediately fix things, observe your team, ask questions, and be willing to listen. Through observation and reflection you will be able to make better, more well informed decisions. You will also have a better understanding of what truly happened before you arrived.
When you walk into a situation where you are the new leader, and the previous leader has destroyed relationships, seek to rebuild those relationships before you do anything else.The key to any leadership situation is to build relationships with your team. As the new kid on the block, your team will test you to see where you stand and what they can and can’t do with you in charge. Be prepared to be tried by your team. Do not respond with an authoritative response, rather observe, listen, and ask questions. Seek to understand your team. This doesn’t mean you give up your authority. It means you allow your authority to be seen through humility and service. Being patient will have a better outcome than being commanding and demanding. A team that is built on relationships will be stronger and more productive than a team built on authoritative dictatorship.
There is a good chance that your predecessor led with fake promises. In other words, they spoke pretty words but did little to follow up what they spoke. There is a chance that they might have seen leadership as a title or position and expected respect rather than earned the respect of the team. If this is the case, there is a good chance that your predecessor led with a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. I see this as a critical failure in leadership. Not only does this sow contempt within the team, but it places a void between leadership and the rest of the team. If you are walking into a situation where your predecessor led in this way, the best thing you can do is to never be seen behind your desk. Be among your team. Stand in the trenches with them, and again, listen and observe. Do not expect things from your team that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
Most importantly, your team needs to know they can trust you and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to build relationships with them. Picking up the pieces from a toxic leadership situation comes with a multitude of challenges. However, the foundation that was set before you does not have to be the foundation you continue to build on. Lay a new foundation, and build a team centered environment. Serve your people with humility and respect. Listen to what they say. You might be surprised at what you hear and learn from your people. You will also be able to tell those who are willing to move forward to seek a new direction and healing apart from those who encourage the toxicity and will continue to be damaging to the team if not dealt with appropriately and professionally.
When you have to come in and pick up the pieces from the chaos that came before, be sure to walk in willing to listen and observe with a humble spirit and a willingness to serve. My guess is that your team was never served in the first place.
As always, stay humble and serve well!