Updated: Aug 25
If you are taking over leadership in an agency or brokerage, it is important to know and not be afraid of taking the following necessary steps:
Be Strong. One of the biggest mistakes I see is a new leader easing slowly into a command and control desk. Flipping a switch and being a bull in a china store upon assuming the throne is not the solution (unless the agency is truly broken) either. But many successors think they have years to gradually make improvements. You don’t have years.
When assuming a leadership position, you must begin leading on day one. Leading does not mean big demonstrative moves, but it does mean leading immediately. Organizations need leadership 24/7. Whatever aspects you might think can wait, you are wrong. If you want to stay the course, then stay the course, but lead.
Even if the business is running well when you come onboard, you are different from the former leader. The sooner everyone understands the differences, the more quickly good communication lines will be established. The sooner everyone knows your goals, the more quickly goals throughout the organization will be aligned. The more quickly you work to establish your leadership, the more quickly doubt will be minimized.
Taking charge is not a repudiation of prior management as so many people, especially the children of the former leaders, think. Employees know the differences usually, or they are waiting to learn the differences, and without clarity, they hesitate in their actions and progress slows. What was working well begins to not work so well. They may take excessive amounts of the new leader's time trying to learn what the new leader's goals/communication style/knowledge are so they don't make mistakes. This makes the new leader's job even more difficult. Some employees will also take advantage of this situation to get their way, to move the agency in the direction they want. When a leader does not establish himself/herself quickly, a vacuum is created and a vacuum in this case makes a mess rather than cleaning up a mess.
If you are hesitant to follow my advice because you do not want to upset people, understand that employees are best served by a leader who creates a clear journey with a high probability of success combined with ethics and fairness. If you do not show these traits because you want to go slow and not take any chance offending anyone, you will create doubt by default.
If you do not want to show strong leadership, act out of respect for past leaders, especially if the past leaders are family. Your hesitation is likely indicative of admirable traits including respect for others. Acting as a strong leader though is not synonymous with being abrasive or worse. Maybe think of it this way, be a strong servant leader. How can you show your employees and clients that you are serving them through strong leadership? The answer will vary by situation, but if you answer this question well, you'll probably achieve the best of all worlds.
If you are not sure you have leadership abilities, find out. Several good leadership programs and tests exists that show you where you are in leadership skills and even your comfort level with being a leader. If you really don't want to be a leader, it is not a crime to not accept leadership responsibility. You and all those around you will be better served if you do not take the job and pretend.
I have seen several situations where successors thought showing leadership meant grand declarations and power plays and big bonuses and more vacations and more latitude following rules. These people were 100% wrong. Their behaviors show control, not leadership. Don’t confuse the two.
If the situation you inherit is not largely solid, make the required changes quickly. Make the hardest decisions and take the toughest actions first. A leader will have followers if they are tough to begin with and soften with time. The reverse does not work so well.
Employees generally have their hopes up that a new leader will fix the obvious problems first. The producers that do not produce for example. Or a manager near retirement in 2, or 3, or four years that needs to go now. Move their departure forward. Set a tone of leadership that rewards results, not tenure
A meritocracy is not a sign of disrespect for time of service or your predecessors' legacy. A leader's job is to advance the firm based on today's situation combined with tomorrow’s needs. Continued wasteful employment damages future success. The competition is not going to reward your lack of action. Remember too, the person who is not performing has had the opportunity to improve so taking action is not unfair.
Machiavelli's classic, "The Prince" is a recipe for ruthlessness that I do not advocate. However, his deep understanding of why a new prince, a new leader, must be decisive is worth a new leader's time. Instead of murdering rivals though, understand why rivals within your organization (rivals are those pushing their vision of where the agency needs to go singularly rather than collaboratively, or their desire to sit still until they retire) cannot be present. They need to go. When a leadership vacuum exists when the new leader is easing their way and someone else is pushing, however subtly, their agenda will fill that vacuum. There is only room for one vision.
In an agency environment, a leader is best served if he/she is strong but kind. If especially difficult decisions must be made, hire a third-party to make them and then blame that person. This advice may sound weaselly but doing so will protect the new leader. People usually come to resent a leader that cleans house, no matter how necessary, unless the leader can cast at least some of the blame on someone else. When my career first began, I had the fortune of meeting a wonderful leader. He had been hired to turnaround a large and completely dysfunctional operation. He succeeded far beyond what anyone likely hoped. I congratulated him and asked what he planned to do next. His response? "Leave." He advised that a leader only has two years following a tough turnaround before people quit following them, no matter how successful the leader was.
Most agency owners don't have the option of leaving after two years so this is why getting someone else to do the dirty work is so important.
The idea for this article germinated because I am seeing good agencies with capable young, but new leaders fail to take control. The damage, with no exaggeration, will put the agencies at least five years behind if they are not sold. I hate seeing so much opportunity and leadership talent wasted because of one's hesitations to step in and be an immediate leader. If you see yourself hesitating and just don't know how to navigate those first few steps to being strong but not overpowering, I strongly encourage hiring a coach. Some wonderful coaches exist. If you are in a family agency, I would argue hiring a coach is a mandatory step. Please do not feel you should automatically have the ability to step in because this is not a natural ability for most people.
NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.