What Happens When the Leader Leaves?

I live near Tampa Florida and recently our baseball team, the Rays, lost our manager of many years Joe Maddon to the Cubs. Let’s all stop for a moment of silence.

Ok – back to work.

Baseball managers, in my opinion, are probably more pivotal to the vitality and success of a team then coaches in other sports. Why? The season is long and with spring training added, these group of players are looking, and hopefully listening, to this person far more then football, rugby, hockey, etc…. If you watch the players you can get a sense of what the manager is like.  Are they loose and comfortable? Are they regimented? The term “Skipper” is often used for Baseball managers for a darn good reason.

Joe is known as someone who can relate to younger players easily and create a comfortable atmosphere to play. And yet his teams know when to perform. Look at this guy – he is no spring chicken.

When Joe left the team, it made me wonder about when business leaders leave and move on. This may sound fairly obvious but the best people always move on eventually. Its rare to the level of discovering a purple elephant with a unicorn sticking out of their head for amazing people to stay with one company forever. An organization needs to be ready to handle this and also to understand what occurs when that happens.

If the leader was terrible then few of what is being discussed will apply. Hasta La Vista Baby! Please don’t let the door hit your rear end on the way out. None of what you are reading will apply.

First let me ask you this: is the leader of the group the one with the title or the one everyone looks at when there are questions? For those in power are you sure you’re the leader or the gatherer of people and information?

Second, there are functional leaders and technical leaders. In the technology space, its purple elephant rare to have them be the same person.

Back on point what happens when the leader leaves? This is highly non-scientific and I’m certain there are many articles that discuss this in multiple layers of psycho-blabber but let me address it in my own way.

It Stinks

Guess what, its going to stink for a while. That’s just the way it is. There may be some deliverables and requirements lost when they leave and as such its important to rally the rest of the gang around and get everyone recounting everything they know and what was on the pipeline.

Does your group need a new leader or can someone else from the group take that role over effectively? The old pizza ordering trick works well. Order pizza and see who takes charge of figuring out what to put on it. Still have chaos? Better get a new leader stat.

What About an Interim Leader?

This may seem strange but maybe the right solution is to bring in or promote someone to be a leader for an interim period of time. Everyone knows this person is here for a relatively short period of time while a permanent replacement is found. There are quite a few churches that do this. When the pastor leaves, the denomination sends in an interim pastor to lead the church while the search committee finds their next permanent replacement. It gives everyone a chance to breathe and not be forced down a timeline.

Be Prepared

Lets break out the Boy Scout rule here in this situation. Are there systems and data in place to understand what needs done first, second, and third and when? It may not be fancy but some documentation and planning would be helpful. I would hazard a guess that just as many organizations use documents and spreadsheets as project management applications. Does that mean its wrong? As long as the data is accurate why not use that until a reason is identified?

If its a technical resource and its the knowledge you need, work the network. No one person knows everything about one subject. There is always someone smarter or at least knows as much as that person on your team.

Know There are Going to be Mistakes

I wish I invented this line but I overheard it many years ago, “No babies are dying if you make a mistake”. Unless you are in pediatrics then this is probably true. Mistakes are human and are going to happen no matter what occurs. In fact more mistakes may occur while the team regroups and finds themselves. Get over it. It happens. Focus on fixing them and preventing future ones. Information is going to be key and having all the information out in the open is critical to preventing future mistakes. Be a child and ask, “Why?” more times then normal. Be certain that everyone, and I mean everyone, fully understands what is required while the group rebuilds trust.

It May be Awesome

No matter how amazing that person was in the group, the next person may be even better. Its not the end of the world. Be positive. Help. Be ready for amazing.

In the end leaders and followers leave. Sometimes its for good reasons and others times its for bad ones. Just about any group CAN survive that but its up to the individuals to be ready to put their effort in and not give up.


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