I turned around to see Sergeant Mike Richards coming my way. Mike had taken over the keypunch section from me when I was reassigned to a new position in the Supply Department. I could tell by the look on his face that something was bothering him. He asked me to step outside so we could talk. There was a door that led to a loading dock right next to the keypunch office so we ventured outside.
“Len, I can’t get these guys to work for me. All I hear is that I am not doing things the way Sergeant Bernat did them. If I hear that one more time, I will either kill them or kill you. You have got to help me figure out what to do!”
“Mike, we can fix this. When the night crew guys come in, hold everyone and come get me. I will talk to them and once I am done, you should have no more problems.”
I am sure this is a common problem. A trusted and respected leader gets promoted and the team he/she led is having trouble adapting to the new leader. And since the former leader is still close by, team member are comparing leadership styles and in some cases, even trying to draw the former leader into siding with them against the new leadership. When this happens, the former leader has to take steps to encourage the team to make the adjustments necessary to work with the new leadership while backing the new leader so that you are not undermining their efforts to be the leader and a valued part of the team. So here are some things that he/she will have to consider when this dilemma arises.
Remember, you built a strong team and they have come to trust you. So, they are coming to you because they respect you. Use that to your advantage.
Remember, though they respect you, they are no longer your team. You have to make that clear.
Remember, the new leader deserves your respect and should be given your total support so that he/she can experience the same success you had as the team leader. Your support will help create a solid working relationship between your new and old sections that will benefit the organization.
Remember, you are leading a new team – they may be doing the same thing to you. So they will be watching how you handle the situation with your old team. Don’t enable your new team. This can be a pivotal moment where you gain their respect.
So, let me finish my story and you will see how I used the above principles to solve this problem. Once the day crew and night crew Marines were assembled together, Mike came and got me. Here is what I said to them.
“Gentleman, look around the room. Each of you is here because you were able to impress me enough to make this team. As many of you know, there were some people who were assigned to this section that did not stay – they did not have what it takes to make this team. The quality I was looking for in each of you was your ability to do your very best with each job you were assigned and when necessary, you could quickly shift to a new assignment when operational requirements caused us to have to change gears in the middle of the stream. That is always hard but this team of Marines proved it could always meet every special situation with complete professionalism when it was necessary.”
“And many of you watched Sergeant Richards get promoted and grow in his leadership. I personally took him under my wing because I knew that the day would come when I would have to turn this amazing team over to another leader. I was bound and determined to ensure you were lead by someone I knew I could trust to take care of you, help you to grow as Marines and in your careers, and lead you into every situation that we as Marines could face. I hand picked Sergeant Richards to be my replacement because he is exactly that kind of Marine leader.”
“So, I need each and every one of you to live up to the qualities I saw when I made you a part of this team. You need to do your best and you need to adapt to the changes that Sergeant Richards brings to this section. Because, like it or not, he is your leader and he can never be me – nor should you expect him to be. Each of us must be true to ourselves if we are going to be a successful leader in the Marine Corps.”
I carefully looked each Marine in the eyes to ensure that they had received my message clearly. Then I turned to Sergeant Richards, “Thank you for allowing me to address your team.” With that, I walked out the door and there was no doubt that this was now Sergeant Richards’ team.
If you are going to be an exceptional leader, you have to help your old team adapt to new leadership when you move to a new position.