February 10, 2016 JLdpSiteteam

Ask the Leadership Coach

I appreciate your question because it reminds us that leadership transitions are more than someone leaving a job, recruiting a replacement, and then everything and everyone continues just as before. We know that leadership transitions are rarely simple and easy. Yet, they are numerous! Think of the continual flow of new leaders at all operational levels of universities, colleges, and research institutions across the world.

Now, back to you and your question. A key principle in coaching is to have agreement between coach and client about the coaching topic. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to the very first question I would ask you, which is “You don’t know what to do about….what?” Getting that question answered, and probing a bit, will help you define what concerns this situation is bringing up for you.

I can only make assumptions about the story you are telling. So, better to ask you questions: “What are your xpectations about this transition?” “What in your opinion would be successful for the institution and for your successor?” “Are there any differences in those definitions of success?” “What understandings do you have with your
successor regarding any ongoing involvement or mentoring?” “What emotions describe how you are feeling about this transition?” Perhaps you feel a sense of loss from leaving your old job and colleagues, but that may be a wide assumption on my part. Other questions: “What is your stake in this transition?” When will you know that transition is ‘done’ for you? ““Have you celebrated this transition in any way?”

I am also curious about your experience with past leadership transitions, or if this is your first experience. What have those previous transitions been like for you?

I also sense that you may feel a need to communicate or intervene in some way, and I would ask you if that is true. And, if so, what drives your need? What would you hope to accomplish by communicating or intervening? Who or what purpose does that serve? How significant to the institution are the people issues and business changes that you
disapprove? (Notice that I did not ask about their significance to you.) Are major institutional risks at play here?

Your communications with people approaching you and how you communicate with them about this transition is also key. Your question is likely prompted because you know, intuitively, that your words and actions could matter a great deal, especially for the office and the new leader’s ability to succeed. I am curious how you are aware of your power, how you hold it, and what your thoughts are about using it.

I assume that we do not have to debate the merits of change, because it happens anyway. We learn to adapt and then adapt again when the next change happens. Some change is random, and other change comes from intentional planning and execution. A good leader influences an organization so it changes productively and in ways that advance the institution’s mission and the lives of the people it serves. And, as the song goes, that is a beautiful thing. I will assume that you can point to times during your leadership of the sponsored programs office that you were truly transformational and helped move the university’s sponsored programs activities forward. It is now someone else’s turn.

There are likely multiple stories and motivations as part of your question. I imagine that some readers are saying (or singing) to themselves, “Let it Go.” Others may be thinking that you are a citizen of your institution and are looking out for the office and individuals, perhaps some of the employees were those you have hired and mentored? Maybe some will think that you have residual concerns about leaving your former role? Some may wonder that, perhaps, you are making yourself too available to those offering criticisms of your successor, and thereby condoning such indirect communication that should be made directly to your successor? Others may be concerned that there is a potentially major institutional risk at issue and it is appropriate for you to speak up.

It is likely that a few of these narratives and explanations (and others) are at play and that these coexist with each other. This is true of all people. Transitions do have natural cycles, beginnings and ends, so laying out expectations in advance is a good practice. Frequent communication is needed because of natural human concerns about

And, coaching is about moving a client forward with healthy reflection and intention. That is what I wish for you. In the spirit of the theme of this month’s Magazine: Start small by reflecting about your own intentions in this transition.

Garry SandersGarry Sanders is an executive coach and graduate of Georgetown University’s Certificate Program in Leadership Coaching. Garry is a long-time research administrator and recipient of NCURA’s Distinguished Service Award. He can be reached at gsanders@assistleadership.com and (518) 588-0992.