But He’s Not You

“Sergeant Bernat!”

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.


Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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  1. When a team transitions to the new leader, there is always a little bit of home-sickness for that past leader. But sometimes that past leader was good at making the team feel good, but not so good at being an effective leader. This sets an impression of what a good leader is for the team, and when they actually do get an effective leader they will not see it that way.

    When being the team’s new leader, you must set that expectation of how the previous leader worked and how you work while justifying the “why”. Teams need that clean break.

    • Chris – Your point is valid. However, in this situation, Sgt. Richards was faced with his very first leadership position and he was having trouble with the transition from fellow team member to leader. He was allowing their complaints to get under his skin – which is why I quoted him when he said he would “…kill them or kill you.” What I did was let the team know they had had the ability to change and help Sgt. Richards be an effective leader through positive reinforcement. This positive approach allowed them to become part of the change process – which was the point I was hoping came through. Thanks for your input as always.

    • Apologies. I didn’t go deep enough. An impediment to new leaders is that they cannot articulate their leadership style. I feel positive energy helps reinforce and multiply leadership style, but that articulation needs to happen.

      New and old-hat leaders need to visually paint and carve out who and what they are in people’s minds. Or else they will hear similar to what you described in the article.

      Look at Canada. It’s identity is that it’s not America. This does not give people the impression that Canada is a leader on the world stage. And Canada’s leaders, regretfully, are a reflection of that.

    • Chris – Very good point. The one thing I learned from this experience is that I need to help those I mentor understand who they are and what their style of leadership will be. In that manner, when they face the challenge of their first leadership experience, they will know how to overcome the challenge of taking over a successful team. And the new leader will know how to lead them through changes that he/she must make to create “his/her” team. I did not do that with Sgt. Richards and that was my failure so that I why I had to clean up my error. Thanks for the continued engagement so that we can see we both are on the right path to understanding.