What happens when suddenly there is no leader?
This creates a lot of uncertainty and concern, as well as a potential drain on knowledge and experience, which an organisation needs.
In the leadership void, unless someone takes charge providing some much needed certainty and reassurance, dissidence and discontent can grow quickly and out of control.
Leadership void plan A
The very best scenario is of course to have a solid succession plan in place. In fact, any organisation should have such a plan – too much dependence on a single leader or a few leaders is irresponsible at best, grossly negligent at worst.
The most successful and powerful leaders are the ones with a good succession plan in place, who are also developing the next person to take over from them. They do this with pride.
The succession plan then needs to be supported by a strong set of shared values and a clear, healthy culture that helps everyone in the organisation to feel continuously supported and clear on direction and action regardless of a sudden disappearance of key leader figures.
With these two elements of the plan, the organisation (or country) shows all stakeholders that they are still in charge of the situation, that the organisation is still strong and that stakeholders can trust that their stake is not at risk.
The most successful and powerful leaders are the ones with a good succession plan in place, who are also developing the next person to take over from them
Leadership void plan B
If there is no plan A when leaders leave, the organisation must move very quickly to restore calm, trust and a sense of certainty. All eyes are on them and every moment counts.
Here are some key steps to take for the most senior person that is left:
In these times of change the organization needs direction, it needs clear leadership saying “this is where we are going, this is the direction” and people need someone to take the lead.
Keep in mind that rumours are created in the communication void (very common when key leaders are no longer around). Don’t collude with that behaviour, if you see it or hear it, stop it. Don’t allow for that communication void to take place – communicate immediately to employees and other key stakeholders, letting them know that despite the leadership drain, it’s still business as usual – and that more information about leadership succession will follow as soon as possible.
Behaviours are important at this point. People look to the leader(s) and watch what behaviours they role model. It is a time to really think about how you are behaving, work out what are acceptable behaviours and what are unacceptable behaviours.
When people recognise that things will indeed be okay, you are creating a confident workforce to support you on the new journey forward
The leadership void may not have been wanted, it may even be perceived as disastrous, but keep in mind that disaster is only a label for how you experience the situation. Only you remember it the way you remember it.
If it’s happened, it’s happened – it’s a fait accompli – and the only way forward is to actively look for the opportunities that arise as a result of it. Look for them, find them, engage people in the process and communicate like you’ve never done before: frequently, confidently, repeating that things will be okay.
When people recognise that things will indeed be okay, you are creating a confident workforce to support you on the new journey forward. Then go ahead and simply lead it from the front.
About the authors
Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, award-winning authors of “The Team Formula”.
Their latest book, multi-award-winning ”Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions”, published by Financial Times International is a practical tool for building winning teams. You can download a free chapter of the book at www.leadingteamsbook.com
Praise for ”Leading Teams: ”Enjoyable to read. Simple to understand. Practical to implement. A must read for team members or leaders”Debbie Fogel-Monnissen, Executive Vice President, International Markets Finance Officer, Mastercard, NY, USA