Rivals Part 2: Bringing Them into The Fold

Last month we identified 5 different kinds of rivals, and we discussed the potential negative impact that they can have on Newly-placed Leaders. A rival is usually someone who was not a viable candidate for the role, but for some reason is unhappy with the presence of the New Leader.

This month we’ll discuss some tools to help neutralize the threat of rivals by bringing them into the fold.

1. The Interim Leader – a person who has served in the New Leader’s role as a fill-in for some period of time. This often is someone who was never formally considered for the role – and may have been told so. But that didn't stop them from wanting the position, or seeing their interim appointment as an “audition.”

Key actions to take with an Interim Leader as you come into your new role:

  • Demonstrate respect for what they have accomplished.
  • Learn from them by asking questions and truly listening.
  • Balance their perspective with other things you are learning. And keep your opinions to yourself – at least for a month or two.
  • Talk with the Interim Leader about their career and aspirations.
  • If they aspire to hold the role you have (and you believe they hold the potential to be successful), support their readiness for promotion.

2. The Upstart – often a younger, ambitious leader who has been dubbed a high-potential by the organization. The main issue with these leaders is that they overestimate their capabilities, and lack the wisdom that comes with experience.

To corral the Upstart:

  • First, spend time with your HR Partner to understand the company’s Talent Management process. Learn which skills and behaviors caused this leader to be identified as a high-potential.
  • Then meet with the Upstart to learn about their past contributions and future goals. Ask about feedback they have received, investments they have made in their own growth, and discuss where gaps still exist. Direct their energy on closing those breeches to show your support of their career objectives.
  • Consider involving them in special projects that can absorb some of their excess capacity. 
  • Follow up, stay connected, and provide balanced feedback that recognizes accomplishments and encourages them to continue building skills.

3. The Technical Expert – this is an individual who has a deeper experience than the New Leader in technologies that are valued by the organization. This rival will most likely surface in high-level technical areas, such as IT or R&D.

To deal successfully with the Technical Expert:

  • Get grounded in the skill profiles used by your organization’s Talent Management process. Do a self-evaluation, and be frank with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Get feedback from key stakeholders, and strive to increase your aptitude from day one.
  • Recognize that the Technical Expert sees technical proficiency as being of the most important aspect of the role. Find ways to acknowledge their capabilities, and to be sure they are challenged enough in their current role. 
  • Create an understanding that although a top leadership role in a technical function may require specific skills as the “price of admission,” there are other kinds of strengths – such as strategy development and leadership – that are key. Reinforce that anyone who wants to advance their career needs to expand their skill set to these broader areas. (And they will develop most quickly if they get multi-rater feedback and make a sustained effort in self-enhancement).

4. The Feedback Deprived – is found in “nice” companies. Well-intended colleagues may hold back corrective feedback out of a desire to preserve relationships. But there really is nothing nice about failing to share information needed for success – and it borders on disrespectful. (See our blog: The Importance of Feedback.)

To help the Feedback Deprived team member(s):

  • Form your own opinions about each team member – and resist the attempts of others to brief you (unless you consult with someone who is in a formal performance-management process).
  • Ask each team member to brief you on their work and accomplishments. Encourage them to share a portfolio of their best work. Ask them about their strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
  • Seek input from HR and other colleagues about the effectiveness of each team member, and remain personally detached while gathering the information.
  • Evaluate how your Direct Reports’ goals line up with what you see and hear about their effectiveness.
  • Where significant gaps exist, identify the best strategy for broaching them with the leader. Multi-rater feedback can be helpful, as can books like Leadership and Self-Deception (published by The Arbinger Institute). 
  • Most importantly, deliver your observations with respect and patience. It can be embarrassing to gain feedback that has been long-withheld. But in the long run it is what’s best for that person.

5. The Culture Keeper – if you have been hired to be a change agent, you should anticipate that someone around you will say, “That’s not the way we do things around here.”

To successfully interact with a Culture Keeper:

  • Recognize that they are communicating organizational norms to you – and this is valuable information for your success.
  • Don’t dismiss them or their comments. Rarely is a New Leader hired to do a complete overhaul of an operation. And even a turnaround requires successful navigation of the existing organizational culture.
  • Remember that when people object to change, they are usually concerned about their own ability to continue delivering results using new processes or methods. So respect their desire to perform, and work together to find ways to preserve their ability to drive results.
  • Avoid using the phrase: “When I worked at _________ company, we did __________,” in your first couple of months in the role. This common mistake made by New Leaders signifies a lack of respect for the operation. Culture Keepers are quick to react to these comments, and are probably expressing opinions also held by others.
  • Focus on your own change leadership. There are some great resources, such as Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard (by Chip and Dan Heath). 
  • Enlist the Culture Keeper as a key advisor in your change initiatives, and keep the lines of communication open.

The common denominators in the strategies suggested above are the importance of listening, learning and communicating effectively when you start a new role. Doing so will help you bring rivals into the fold, and have broader, enduring benefits as well.

Read Part 1 of this blog.

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Posted in Advice for Hiring Managers, Advice for Internal Consultants, Advice for New Leaders, Mitigating the Risk of New Leader Transition, OnBoarding as Risk Management, Things to Look Out For, Why New Leaders Fail.