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6 best practices when you need to replace a leader

Stacy’s time as a manager at the firm was coming to an end. She had started strong – for the first two years, her leadership of her team seemed to work well. They regularly met and even exceeded their goals. Team morale seemed strong. Innovation and energy were evident. Unfortunately, even early on there were indications that she wasn’t being the leader her team needed. Her staff turnover was higher than the other managers and even the people who stayed weren’t being promoted; their growth was stymied. Over time, Stacy’s weaknesses became more and more apparent.

Unfortunately, coaching Stacy about her weaknesses became increasingly difficult. Her defensiveness and blindness to her own issues made her a challenge to have on the leadership team. Ultimately, the tough decision to replace her was made.

How would you handle Stacy’s departure? What do you do when you know you need to make a change in your leadership team?

Here are six best practices to follow when you are making a leadership change.

  1. Act as quickly as possible. Once you’ve decided you need to replace a leader, do so quickly. Don’t risk word getting out, don’t risk the leader spreading discontent, and don’t let team morale suffer. Act quickly and decisively.
  2. Act as well as possible. Just because Stacy didn’t work out for our team, doesn’t mean she won’t work out for another team. Let her finish well. And make sure you support her team during the transition.
  3. Plan for the unexpected. Will Stacy take team members with her? Will she take customers with her? Will there be resignations from her staff? What details of her job will be lost? During the time leading up to a leader’s departure, keep a close watch on her areas of responsibility so that nothing is missed.
  4. Build a transition plan. Be prepared ahead of time with how you will execute not only your leader’s departure, but how the team will move forward during any interim while she or he is replaced.
  5. Use a transition team. This might be a great time to test the readiness of a younger leader to assume temporary responsibilities. Often you will also find that when the right decision to replace a leader is made, the subordinates will rise to the challenge and support your decision with extra effort. They know you’ve done the right thing, they’re thankful that their voices have been heard, and they want to show you the latent capabilities on the team.
  6. Run your decision by a trusted advisor. If you have a board, check with them. If you have a business mentor, check with him or her. Don’t make this decision alone. Check your perspective. Validate your concerns. “Wisdom is found in many counselors.” Don’t go it alone.

Stacy’s departure was handled well. Her team performed admirably during the interim. She landed well with a new firm, and spoke fondly of her time with her prior firm. The new leader is now in place, and the team is excited to move forward.

What tough leadership transition do you need to make? How will you ensure it goes as well as possible?