New Leaders Take Charge – Myths (part 5)

New leaders need to be “strong, in-charge types” who let people know they are on the job. This is similar to the myth that leadership is for heroes. However, this one has an upside, just so long as the leader doesn’t believe it!

For example, my father was a 30 year Naval officer (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, etc.) and a great leader. He shared with me that whenever he took over a new command, he would look for the most inconsequential thing he could find. Usually it was the muster time (that’s the time everyone reports to the ship in the morning, for all y’all landlubbers). If the previous time was 6:30am, he’d change it to 7:00am. Or if it was 7:00am he’d change it to 6:30am. He really didn’t care about the time, he wanted to demonstrate to the command that there was someone new in charge who would be changing things. Then he took the time to get to know the department heads and assess the culture of the ship.

A Navy ship’s responsibilities don’t stop when the captain changes. Neither does a business or a church when they change leaders. Decisions still need to be made, operations must continue. Yet it takes time to lead well, time to know the people, time to see the challenges before the organization. Although “sudden leadership departures” due to death or firing or some other dire circumstance may seem to require an emergency triage of existing operations, even so, these need to be evaluated carefully before sweeping change can begin.

My father’s trick  toned down the crew’s anxiety about change, established his authority, and gave him “breathing room” to do the true work of a new leader, not “taking charge,” but finding out how his people worked together and how best to lead them.


6 thoughts on “New Leaders Take Charge – Myths (part 5)

  1. Well said! I can relate to this on two levels: one, as a prior enlisted Seaman, and two as a performance consultant and businessman! In this case, I will speak to the latter.

    A sage piece of advice that I was given by a previous mentor of mine, Joan Garyanates, was that the first 30-days in a new position (especially leadership) should be about building relationships. Getting to know the people, the processes, and the dynamics. A classmate of mine at Ithaca College pointed this out during an online conversation as he described his experience as a Coast Guard Commanding Officer. To summarize the conversation, he stated almost the exact same mentality described in this article, in almost the exact same (multiple) scenarios. If you go in to a new leadership position with the mentality of “Damn the torpedos, full-steam ahead!” then you will turn quite a few people off, and the relationships can possibly be irreversibly damaged. Take the time to get to know the environment and the people, both systemically and systematically. You will reap the benefits and rewards ten-fold.

    This article points this out perfectly and powerfully. As always, well done!

  2. Good reminder about taking time to build relationships. I really like what you said on the HCB post today that “leadership is about relationships.” It’s not so much about “taking charge,” although that is part of it. Like you say here, there is a patience and focus that is required to spend time getting to know people, the organization, etc. I read that when Lou Gerstner came to turn around IBM, he spent the first three months digging into facts and figures and people, just trying to assess the situation. When someone asked him what the new vision was, he said “There is no vision. I just need to work on what is right in front of us now.” Interesting!

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