Surviving a succession race on your team

May 29, 2016 3coze

A few experiences recently triggered me to start a series on changes in team leadership. In the first post, I talked about the decision to vie for your boss’ job and how to behave while you’re in the running. Today, I’m focused on the folks who aren’t interested in the job, but do need to survive the running of the bulls going on around them.

So you find yourself on a team with a change in leadership imminent. Some people are probably pretty overt about their interest in the job while others are playing their cards close to their chest. And that’s just the candidate point of view. There’s also HR, the current boss, and the boss’ boss scoping out the potential successors. That’s a lot of judging and evaluating going on. Safe to assume there are going to be some interesting dynamics.

What to expect

You can probably expect to see a low budget Carmen play out before your very eyes. Don’t be surprised if you witness any of the following scenarios…

  • One or more succession candidates is showboating or otherwise prancing around like a peacock showing off his feathers. Expect a little (or a lot) of self-aggrandizement and don’t take it personally if the rest of the team is getting less than your share of the credit. Egos are in full bloom…beware.
  • One candidate is secretly trying to enlist you as a supporter in a clandestine Survivor-type alliance. She never misses an opportunity to butter you up and is cloyingly sweet in your presence. You no longer trust anything she says because it’s so clearly aimed at getting you onside. Not that you have any influence in the decision!
  • Not a whole lot of work getting done. It’s amazing how much energy goes into the selection process. The people vying for the role are highly distracted. Everyone else is immobilized by the uncertainty about whether to treat the departing leader as a lame duck or not.
  • The departing leader is behaving strangely. Maybe moving on was his idea, maybe not. Maybe he’s having second thoughts. Perhaps he’s a little too invested in his favorite protégé being his replacement. For whatever reason, if there’s a period of transition for your current leader, don’t be surprised if his behavior is a little wonky.

What you can do

It’s tempting to get comfy and enjoy the show, but don’t fall for it. Instead, do the following:

  • Stay focused on the task at hand; somebody has to. Where appropriate, send signals that others should do the same. Little quips such as “ok, what’s next on our agenda?” or “back at it,” can be a nice way to break up a chatting session that has gone on a little too long. This might even be a good time to take advantage of your company’s flexible work policies to work a day or two a week from home.
  • Clarify with your team leader which decisions can be made and which should wait for the new leader. Until she officially leaves the role, assume that you’re following her lead. Don’t be presumptuous about who might be your next boss.
  • Stay neutral about the succession decision. If one or more of the candidates ask for your support, tell them it’s not your decision to make.
  • Shut down any gossip you hear about the selection process. “At this point, that’s just speculation, we’ll have to wait and see.” If someone continues engaging you in salacious musings, just say you have to get back to work and walk away.
  • Provide candid feedback to anyone who asks for it. If one of the candidates asks for your opinion on their strengths or weaknesses, answer him honestly. If he genuinely wants to work on developing his skills, provide coaching and support.

There are so many mistakes you can make during this politically sensitive time. Take the high road and show yourself to be a high integrity and high value team member to any future leader.

Further Reading

My boss doesn’t like me

When you add new team members

Exposing reactions to change

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